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[5 min read] COVID-19 Update for GPs: Prof Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer

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Important coronavirus (COVID-19) update for GPs from Professor Michael Kidd, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health

This past week, as part of World Family Doctor Day we recognised the essential contributions our nation’s general practitioners make to the health and wellbeing of the people of Australia. This year’s theme recognised that GPs are ‘first in, last out’ during health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic.

This week we also reached two major milestones:

  1. More than 10 million telehealth services delivered to over 5 million patients since telehealth service expansion began on 13 March
  2. One million COVID-19 tests have now been completed around the country.

While the infection rate continues to slow across Australia, it is vital we maintain our vigilant testing regime. Coronavirus remains in many of our communities. If your patients are displaying any symptoms of respiratory tract infection or fever, please arrange for them to be tested.

Along with testing, contact tracing is an essential part of our national response. To date, more than 5.94 million people have downloaded the COVIDSafe app, which supports the work of our contact tracers in each State and Territory. The app is operating as designed, and is helping the States and Territories to find close contacts, with Victoria this week becoming the first state to identify a contact using the app as part of their contact tracing of a newly diagnosed person. Thank you for encouraging your patients to sign up to the app.

Professor Michael Kidd AM
Deputy Chief Medical Officer & Principal Medical Advisor
Department of Health

1. World Family Doctor Day celebrated

The Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, in acknowledging World Family Doctor Day, this week thanked the nation’s GPs. In a statement, he took the opportunity to recognise the critically important work undertaken by medical practitioners on the front line and acknowledged the essential role you play in protecting the health of your communities during the pandemic.

2. Statement on Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has responded to recent reports linking Kawasaki Disease and COVID-19 by releasing this statement:

AHPPC has considered advice from the Acute Inflammatory Vasculitis Working Group and the Paediatric Active Enhanced Disease Surveillance, regarding a condition provisionally named Paediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome Temporally associated with SARS-COV-2 (PIMS‑TS).

PIMS-TS is a newly described condition in children with features that overlap with Kawasaki Disease (KD) and Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS); it appears to be associated with COVID-19 in certain circumstances.

To date, PIMS-TS has been reported in children from countries such as the USA, UK and Europe who are experiencing widespread community-based transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and thus, much higher rates of paediatric disease. COVID-19 in children is less common and typically a mild disease. PIMS-TS appears to be rare but worthy of better understanding.

The overall risk for any severe COVID-19 outcomes in children in the Australian context remains extremely low and no cases of PIMS-TS have been identified in Australia at this time. However, AHPPC supports:

  • enhanced surveillance capabilities for this and related conditions in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • communication to paediatricians and general practitioners to make them aware of this potential complication of COVID-19.
  • cooperation with paediatricians, surveillance and research networks internationally regarding further developments.

3. GP-led respiratory clinics update

This week the 116th GP-led respiratory clinic opened in Orange, New South Wales, as part of the Australian Government’s $2.4 billion health response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The clinics around the country assess and test patients with mild to moderate COVID-19-like symptoms, reducing pressure on hospital emergency departments and general practices. They are intended to provide holistic care for people presenting with symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection, and are not just testing centres.

Throughout Australia there are now 485 clinics operating including:

  • 116 GP-led respiratory clinics funded directly by the Commonwealth
  • 340 state fever clinics funded jointly by the Commonwealth and States
  • 29 Australian Defence Force clinics funded by the Commonwealth.

The clinics supplement a range of measures, including additional practice incentives and the expansion of telehealth, to enable the medical workforce to continue to care for Australians through the pandemic.

Included in the 116 operational clinics are 11 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Service (ACCHS)-led clinics. A further six ACCHS-led clinics are expected to open soon.

Respiratory clinics have implemented thorough infection prevention and control protocols to minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19. They provide assessments and testing for all people with symptoms to detect cases and allow them to be isolated as early as possible.

Patients attending a GP-led respiratory clinic should make a booking via the online booking system on health.gov.au or by phoning their nearest clinic.

4. Minister addresses 73rd World Health Assembly

The Minister for Health, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, this week had the honour of addressing the 73rd annual World Health Assembly, outlining Australia’s response to the crisis. Speaking to the World Health Organisation’s 194 member states, the Minister discussed Australia’s primary care response to COVID-19 and pledged support for an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the global response.

“We need to learn the lessons from this pandemic and ensure we have the strongest possible global health architecture, with an enhanced stability to prevent and respond to future outbreaks,” said Minister Hunt. He added Australia will continue working with the global community to end this pandemic, and strengthen health systems to protect against future pandemics. Read full statement here.

5. Easing restrictions on elective surgery

At the end of last week, National Cabinet agreed to reopen elective surgery by removing restrictions and restoring hospital activity across three stages. Each jurisdiction will determine which stage applies to its circumstances, and the timeline for implementation, and ensure surgical activity is safely restored in line with the agreed principles.

The stages are:

Stage 1 – up to 50 per cent of normal surgical activity levels (including reportable and non-reportable);
Stage 2 – up to 75 per cent of normal surgical activity levels (including reportable and non-reportable);
Stage 3 – up to 100 per cent of normal surgical activity levels (including reportable and non-reportable) or as close to normal activity levels as is safely possible.

Private hospitals should mirror their jurisdiction’s approach to surgical activity unless agreed otherwise with the relevant state or territory.

The level of elective surgery will be reviewed monthly from May 2020 by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC), to ensure it remains safe and sustainable, and in line with the agreed principles.

6. Update on easing remote area travel restrictions

Last week National Cabinet agreed to a framework to inform decisions around lifting remote area travel restrictions as we move through the three-step plan for a COVIDSafe Australia. This will help remote communities and governments manage risk and respond to cases early. It also recognises that the different circumstances across communities will require different approaches.

The key concern is ensuring appropriate arrangements are in place to minimise the risks of transmission and manage any cases or outbreaks that may occur. The restrictions in place in remote communities have followed requests from communities, organisations and leaders, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.

Furthermore, National Cabinet acknowledged the success with no reported cases of COVID-19 among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities.

Original source: https://mailchi.mp/health.gov.au/covid-19-update-for-gps-from-the-chief-medical-officer-xxxxxx-4431624?e=83862cc2c1

See last week’s update from Professor Michael Kidd here.

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