More Australians can now be checked for coronavirus as testing is expanded to include people in healthcare, aged care, and residents living in high-risk areas.
The Federal Government announced changes to the current testing criteria following a National Cabinet meeting in Canberra on Wednesday night.
The testing will now include anyone with a fever or acute respiratory infection who works in healthcare or aged care, or lives in areas with high levels of transmission or where there are two or more plausibly linked cases.
Some of the areas that have seen an elevated risk of community transmission include Sydney’s north and eastern suburbs as well as Stanwell Tops, where 39 wedding guests contracted the virus.
High-risk areas where no community transmission is occurring include aged and residential care, rural and remote Aboriginal communities, detention centres, boarding schools, and military bases that have live-in accommodation.
‘National Cabinet also agreed that testing will be expanded to include hospitalised patients with fever and acute respiratory symptoms of unknown cause, at the discretion of the treating clinician,’ a statement said.
‘This is the minimum testing criteria. States and territories have the discretion to expand their own criteria for testing if they have capacity.’
Coronavirus testing was previously restricted due to a scarcity of kits and available testing facilities.
It had targeted the highest risk groups for spreading infection: return travellers who arrived within 14 days and developed symptoms of COVID-19, as well as people who fell ill after being in contact with confirmed cases of infection.
A patient who has severe community-acquired pneumonia with no clear cause and healthcare workers who worked directly with patients who have a respiratory illness and a fever could also be screened for the virus.
The changes to COVID-19 testing requirements came after an earlier announcement that state and federal leaders had agreed to indefinitely suspend all category three and most category two surgeries from midnight.
The National Cabinet agreed on Wednesday night that the deadline for the suspension of semi-urgent category two and three elective surgeries at private hospitals would be extended to April 1.
The move to suspend elective surgeries would help free up resources needed by healthcare staff, the prime minister said.
‘This will allow the preservation of resources like personal protective equipment and health services to prepare for their role in the COVID-19 outbreak,’ Scott Morrison said.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said decisions on category two surgery would be made by people’s clinicians on a case-by-case basis.
‘I want to stress, as the prime minister did recently, based on our advice, that urgent surgery, of course, should continue,’ Professor Kelly told reporters in Canberra.
‘So cancer surgery, heart surgery and so forth, which is absolutely needed will continue.’
There are 2,431 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and nine people have died.