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Coronavirus In Australia: NSW Widens Testing Criteria To Everyone

Plus other things to know about COVID-19 today.

At least 6,673 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Australia and 78 people have died.

There are more than 2.7 million confirmed cases of the virus worldwide, and more than 190,000 people have died from it

Here is what is happening today:

1. NSW To Increase Testing: ‘We Want 8000 A Day’

NSW now aims for bigger-scale testing for COVID-19, by widening the scope for who can actually get tested.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said “anybody across the state” can get a test, even if they don’t work with vulnerable people or aren’t living in a known coronavirus cluster.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

“I’m very pleased to announce New South Wales is now saying to anybody across the state, if you have symptom, if you are worried you have the COVID-19, if you have been in contact with anyone and you are concerned you have the disease, please come forward and get tested,” she said on Friday.

The Premier said the “boost” in testing is important before the lifting of restrictions can be considered.

“We want to see the number of tests go up above 8000 everyday,” she said.

“We really want to boost our testing because as we consider lifting restrictions, we have to have more tests. We have to have more people come forward and we really want that to happen.”

2. Australia In Third Phase

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia is in the ‘third’ phase of the Covid-19 outbreak.

“We are now in that third phase which we have to protect against,” he said at a press conference on Friday.

 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison 
 Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison 

“That’s the ‘community phase’, where the virus actually moves within our own community.”

He said this meant the health authorities hoped to slow the spread by widespread testing - even of people without symptoms - and contact tracing.

“We now have to be wary against community transmission, and so we are dealing with that third wave of the virus,” he said.

3. Ruby Princess Cruise Ship Sets Sail

The cruise ship linked to a third of Australia’s coronavirus deaths has left the country after a month docked in local waters, the authorities said on Friday, as an emergency cabinet meeting was expected to ease some social distancing measures.

The Ruby Princess, owned by Carnival Corp, has become a flashpoint of public anger after being allowed to unload thousands of passengers in Sydney without health checks on March 19.

Hundreds of its passengers later tested positive to COVID-19, about 10% of the country’s roughly 6,600 infections, and a third of the country’s 77 coronavirus deaths have been traced to the ship.

Separate criminal, coronial and government investigations have been launched to find out how the ship’s operators were allowed to let coronavirus patients disembark.

The ship left Australia early on Friday with about 500 crew members on board, after other crew members had been repatriated, New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller told reporters.

“NSW Health will maintain contact with the ship’s doctor, whilst they are in Australian waters,” Fuller said.

“This was all about minimising the risk to the crew members, and the health advice was that yesterday, the ship was the lowest risk that we’ve seen since it landed,” he added.

4. Health Official Questions Trump’s ‘Disinfectant Injections’ Idea

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has questioned US President Donald Trump’s recent suggestion of giving people disinfectant injections or ultraviolet light to cure coronavirus.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy (L) and US President Donald Trump (R) 
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy (L) and US President Donald Trump (R) 

When asked about Trump’s comments during a press conference in Canberra on Friday, Murphy said injections of that sort would be “toxic”.

“I would caution against the injection of disinfection,” he said. “They could be quite toxic to people.”

More details here.

5. Non-Health Officials Can’t Access Tracing App

Australia will make it illegal for non-health officials to access data collected on smartphone software to trace the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, amid privacy concerns raised by the measure.

Australia has so far avoided the high death toll of other countries, with only 78 deaths, largely as a result of tough restrictions on movement that have brought public life to a standstill.

The federal government has said existing “social distancing” measures will remain until at least mid-May, and that its willingness to relax them will depend on whether people download the smartphone “app” to identify who a person with the illness has had contact with.

The tracing app, which is yet to be released, has raised concerns from legal and privacy advocates who have said the location data it collects may be used by unrelated bodies like law enforcement agencies.

Morrison said the government would make any use by non-health officials illegal.

“It will be illegal for information to go out of that data store to any other person other than that for whom the whole thing is designed, and that is to support the health worker in the state to be able to undertake the contact tracing,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Morrison also confirmed a local media report which said the data would be stored on servers managed by AWS, a unit of U.S. internet giant Inc, but added that “it’s a nationally encrypted data store.”

The promise of laws to limit use of the app came as the Australian authorities reported another day of low single-digit percentage increases of the illness, which has infected about 6,700 people and resulted in 78 deaths in the country.

With additional reporting by Reuters.

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