The latest figures show coronavirus is no longer confined to the big cities as the deadly virus infects more victims in regional Australia.
As the nation’s rate of COVID-19 infection continues to surge with each passing day, casualties in regional parts of the country have started to soar.
The total number of cases nationwide hit 3,050 on Friday morning, including 13 deaths.
Of those numbers, New South Wales remains at the epicentre of the nation’s virus crisis with 1,405 confirmed cases – almost half Australia’s total.
The regional Hunter New England Health District – which spans more than 130,000km along the east coast from Newcastle to the NSW/Queensland border – has 70 people who have returned positive test results.
Confirmed cases have also been popping up in the Murrumbidgee region in the state’s south, including Wagga Wagga, Griffith and Albury, with ten infections.
Northern Tablelands MP and NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said his office has been inundated with calls and emails from worried residents.
‘The health district in the public domain is just not sufficient, it’s just not enough … We’re dealing with a worldwide pandemic and people’s stress levels are at record highs,’ Mr Marshall told the ABC.
Doctors in regional fire-ravaged towns have been struggling to cope with the amount of coronavirus patients due to equipment shortages.
Dozens of towns have been left without respirators and experts warn the consequences could be dire.
‘The fact is we’ve got no gowns, no masks, we can’t get a swab done, there’s confusion,’ Dr Andrew Gibson, who is based in fire-hit Batemans Bay on the NSW South Coast, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
He also said he hasn’t been able to get a test for himself after developing a sore throat.
‘People have got to realise this is deadly serious and a lot of people are going to die, unfortunately. It’s going to happen.’
With an ageing population in regional towns, there are fears the virus could spread to nursing homes.
‘[Aged care residents] are worried, they haven’t talked a lot about it, I don’t know how many people realise that if they get sick there’s a chance that they won’t get a ventilator and that’s on the cards, unfortunately,’ Dr Gibson said.
The rate of infection has spread right up the coast into Queensland as the state closed its borders to the rest of the nation at midnight on Wednesday.
A 68-year-old Queensland man died on Wednesday afternoon after catching the virus on board a cruise ship that docked in Sydney last week.
Queensland Health said the man had a ‘serious underlying medical condition before contracting the virus.’
While metropolitan areas of Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast have reported almost 300 individual cases, Cairns and the Hinterland in the northern part of the state has recorded 10 cases.
The virus has also spread into remote areas, with Central Queensland recording at least five positive test results.
The number of victims in regional parts of Victoria has also skyrocketed over the past few days, with two deaths.
The state’s total rose to 520 diagnosed cases of the respiratory infection, an increase of 54 from Wednesday.
Ballarat in the Central Highlands has five confirmed cases, bringing the state’s total to 466.
Other regional areas including Greater Geelong has 11 cases, Baw Baw, Shepparton, Warnambool each has two each, and Mount Alexander has three.
Western Australia, which closed its borders last week and remains shut off to the rest of Australia, recorded eight new cases on Wednesday.
Eight are from regional parts of the state including the South West, Kimberley, Pilbara, Wheatbelt and Great Southern with one new case each.
The state’s total sits at 231.
Tourists in Tasmania have been ordered to go home by the state’s premier, who has also implored people not to visit the island amid the coronavirus pandemic.
People staying in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfasts, campsites and boarding houses have until midnight on Sunday to leave their accommodation, the state government has announced.
‘I’m sorry to say that, but go home,’ Premier Peter Gutwein told reporters on Thursday.
‘Unfortunately there will be some dislocation for people but I make no apologies for working hard to keep Tasmanians safe.’
The state has recorded 42 coronavirus cases.
Despite the virus being generally more deadly for older or vulnerable people, there are now cases of younger patients battling the disease in hospital.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said one patient aged in the 30s was in intensive care and one in their 60s.
‘We have had many people overseas in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s ending up in ICU beds because of their diagnosis of COVID-19,’ she said.
Australia’s deputy chief health officer Paul Kelly said the worrying development should serve as a ‘wake up call’.
‘No-one is immune to this. Many of us will get sick from it. Some of us will get severely sick and end up in hospital,’ he said.
‘Some will need to be in intensive care. And some of us, as we’ve seen already, unfortunately, will pass away from this disease.’
Despite the grave warnings, the government relaxed time restrictions on hairdressers on Thursday morning, after previously bringing in a 30 minute appointment limit.
The time limit was quickly lifted after salon owners said it was too difficult to cut someone’s hair in half an hour.
The rule was announced on Tuesday night to slow the spread of coronavirus but was scrapped just eight hours after it came into force.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the decision was made ‘following the receipt of feedback on the practical implementation of measures’.