COVID-19 fever clinic in Perth

WA is set to relax the threshold for coronavirus testing sooner than other parts of the country. Courtesy: ABC News/Benjamin Gubana

The West Australian Government is preparing to announce expanded criteria for COVID-19 testing later today to allow for more people to be tested for the virus.

Key points:

  • Coronavirus tests are set to be extended to extra people in WA
  • The Health Minister says cruise ships are the state’s “Achilles heel”
  • Perth Zoo is closing its doors to visitors for the first time in 122 years

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said until now testing had largely been focused on people arriving from overseas or those who had come into contact with travellers or known cases of coronavirus.

But with the state’s borders now effectively closed, he said tests would be made available to different people.

Western Australia’s borders will be closed from 1:30pm today, with anyone arriving in the state required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Mr Cook has not revealed today’s number of new cases in WA but said he expected the rate of infections in the state would continue at a rate of about 20 to 30 new cases each day.

Western Australia has a total of 140 diagnosed cases, including one death.

He confirmed Rottnest Island was being closed so the State Government could use it as a quarantine zone if necessary to accommodate people who could not self-isolate safely, such as those who had to undergo chemotherapy.

Cruise ship passengers WA’s ‘Achilles heel’

Mr Cook told ABC Radio Perth the rise in the number of WA cases was “bubbling along at the same sort of trajectory at the moment”.

“What we are seeing at the moment, really disturbingly, is a big number of people coming from the Ruby Princess and Ovation of the Seas cruise ships,” he said.

“They are our real Achilles heel at the moment in terms of trying to control the number of new cases each day.”

WA COVID-19 snapshot
Confirmed cases so far: 140
Deaths: 1
Tested negative: 9,948

Yesterday there were six passengers from the Ruby Princess and one from the Ovation of the Seas diagnosed with COVID-19.

Mr Cook also said he understood there were some cases in northern WA related to the resources industry that would be confirmed later today.

He said relaxing the threshold for testing would allow for the gathering of a larger body of evidence and protection of more vulnerable West Australians.

The Minister said the testing regime was being worked on at a federal level, but WA would likely implement the expansions sooner.

“We will obviously maintain our vigilance around travellers, but we also now need to look to other cohorts to make sure that we’re tracking the progress of the virus,” he said.

“Older Western Australians are a high-risk category and potentially other frontline workers.

“I won’t second-guess the experts, but we’ll certainly be making announcements today.”

Perth Zoo closes as ‘precautionary measure’

Perth Zoo said it was temporarily closing its doors to visitors for the first time in its 122-year history in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Two orangutans sit atop metal bars among trees, inside their enclosure at Perth Zoo. Perth Zoo chairperson Grant Robinson said the decision was not made lightly.

“Although the COVID-19 risk is low in an open-air environment like a zoological park, it is important for Perth Zoo to be a leader in our community and prioritise the health and wellbeing of our staff and visitors,” he said.

“This is a precautionary measure, but the safety of everyone who uses our zoo is our priority.

“Throughout the period of closure, our staff will remain onsite caring for the 1,300 animals who call Perth Zoo home and looking after our beautiful botanic estate.

“We also recognise that the zoo is not just a place for people to come and look at animals. It is part of the fabric of the WA community.

“While the zoo is closed, the public is encouraged to stay virtually connected to our animals through our social media channels and website.”

Drill rig worker tests positive for COVID-19

A contractor working on a Browse Basin drilling rig off the Kimberley coast has tested positive for coronavirus, resulting in all non-essential staff being flown to the WA mainland to self-isolate for two weeks.

Breaking down the latest news and research to understand how the world is living through an epidemic, this is the ABC’s Coronacast.
The ABC understands most of the workers are in lockdown in a resort in Broome.

The man who tested positive had already returned to his home overseas by the time he fell ill.

He had been working on the Inpex-commissioned Maersk Deliverer drilling rig, about 220 kilometres off the Kimberley coast.

None of his co-workers have shown any symptoms of the disease, but operator Inpex said non-essential personnel were now being transferred onshore to commence self-isolation.

“At this point, no persons on board Maersk Deliverer have shown symptoms of COVID-19,” Inpex said in a statement.

“As a precautionary measure, all non-essential personnel on the drilling rig are being transferred onshore to commence self-isolation.

“Our priority is the health and wellbeing of the people who work with us and the safe operation of our facilities.

“We value the Broome community and take this matter very seriously and continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-24/wa-coronavirus-testing-criteria-to-be-expanded-perth-zoo-closes/12084732