- $669m is for telehealth – online consultations with GPs and other health services
- $74m is for mental health amid concerns about the impact of self-isolation
- $150m is for domestic and family violence support following a 75% spike in online searches
- A new government app offers advice, the latest news and other support
- $200 is for emergency relief services via charities such as Foodbank, St Vinnies & the Salvos
- The number of COVID-19 cases in Australia stands at 3935, with 16 deaths
The latest battlefronts in Australia’s fight against coronavirus are mental health, domestic violence support and emergency food relief, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a $1.1 billion package on Sunday morning.
“As we battle coronavirus on both the health and economic fronts with significant support packages in place and more to come, I am very aware many Australians are understandably anxious, stressed and fearful about the impacts of coronavirus and what it brings,” Morrison said.
“We are focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods and this new support package will provide much needed care and help to so many Australians facing hardship at no fault of their own.”
The government will also rapidly scale up telehealth, with $669 million to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services, with extra incentives to GPs and other health practitioners.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said that “changes that would otherwise take 10 years are being done in 10 days”.
Health workers will get dedicated mental health support through digital platforms, while $10 million is for the the Community Visitors Scheme to train volunteer visitors to connect with older people in aged care online and by phone. $6.75 million is headspace digital work and study service and eheadspace for younger people. There are also services for indigenous people and those with disabilities.
People will be able to consult with their GP, mental health and other health services in their own home using their telephone, or video conferencing features such as FaceTime.
The GP bulk billing incentive will be doubled and there’ll be an extra incentive payment to keep GP clinics open for patients who can’t be treated through telehealth. The new arrangements are in place until 30 September 2020
Domestic violence support boosted
An initial $150 million in the $1.1 billion is to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence, with the Prime Minister saying that Google has seen a five-year high in searches for domestic violence help, up 75% and some services are already reporting an increase in demand.
The funds will go towards counselling support for families, the national DV service 1800RESPECT, Mensline Australia, and programs for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves to stay in their homes, or a home of their choice.
A new public information campaign will also get underway.
An extra $74 million is for mental health and wellbeing, with $10 million for a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line, delivered by Beyond Blue, and $14 million to bolster the capacity of mental health support providers , including $5 million for Lifeline and $2 million for Kids Helpline.
Morrison said the Government’s digital mental health portal, Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au), will be a single source of authoritative information and guidance on how to maintain good mental health during the coronavirus pandemic and in self-isolation, how to support children and loved ones, and how to access further mental health services and care.
An additional $200 million is for charities and other community organisations which provide emergency and food relief. The money will help with everything from bills, to food, clothing and petrol, and to increase and retain workforce capacity including volunteers. Food charities such as FoodBank and OzHarvest.
Other measures include ramping up the National Debt Helpline, a short-form Financial Counselling Australia course to train new financial counsellors and an expansion of the No Interest Loan Scheme, which provides an immediate financial relief alternative to other high-risk, high-interest products such as credit cards and payday loans.
Coronavirus Australia app
“You will get access to a new messaging service which enables us to talk to more and more Australians in terms of basic health advice, updates on the measures that are being put in place by state and federal governments, and that will assist you to get accurate and timely information,” the Prime Minister said.
“I can also say that on the Apple app store, the coronavirus app, you can now download it. I did that this morning, and that is available and is doing the same thing – providing further information, more resources, a trusted place of advice and information.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Australia is set to pass 4000 today, as two more people died, in Victoria and Queensland, taking the national total to 16.
A 75-year-old Queensland woman who was a passenger on the Ruby Princess cruise ship, which disembarked in Sydney 10 days ago without the passengers being quarantined and has been responsible for more than 160 infections.
NSW once again had the biggest increase at 174 – a fall on the previous day’s growth rate – for a total of 1,791. Victoria had the second biggest jump at 84 cases for a total of 769, followed by Queensland with 31 (total 656).
There are now 3935 cases nationally.
During the NSW announcement, police commissioner Mick Fuller said 11 people have been issued with infringement notices for failing to observe social distancing and isolation rules.
During the earlier federal announcement, Minister Hunt said there were “positive early signs of flattening the curve” in the Australian data.
“We have so much more work to do, but by people isolating, by people being able to social distance – and they are really doing this – Australians are rising magnificently to this challenge,” he said.
Australia’s testing regime is also helping the health minister said.
“As of this morning, there are 209,000 tests completed in Australia,” Hunt said.
“We have one of the broadest and most reflective testing regimes and this is borne up by the secondary evidence that, at this point in time, our loss of life, as terrible as it is, is well below 1%, below 0.5% of those confirmed.”
The Prime Minister said was also hopeful.
“This time last week, the rate of increase from cases was up around 25-30% a day. That rate is now, over the last few days, has fallen to about 13-15%,” Morrrison said.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s first death, a woman in her 70s, occurred overnight. The country has 514 COVID-19 cases.