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34,000 more hospital beds and everything else to know about COVID-19 today, Tuesday March 31.

A partnership between public and private health sectors reached.

The Australian government has made a deal with the states and the private hospital system that will bring over 34,000 more beds into rotation as the number of people with COVID-19 grows.

The agreement will also see 105,000 full and part-time hospital staff repurposed – including 57,000 nurses and midwives. Hospital staff were under threat of losing their jobs when the government last week announced a pause on elective surgeries, which is responsible for bringing in most of the revenue to private and Catholic hospitals.

“It guarantees them their future and their support both during the crisis and beyond, but most importantly, it brings their resources to the fight against coronavirus in Australia,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told parliament at 1pm today. 

“Today we make very significant strides in improving capacity,” he added. 

Discussions over this deal continued long into the night over the weekend, and Hunt said this agreement represents “the reconstruction of the relationship between public and private hospitals”. 

“We will be guaranteeing the viability along with the states of all 657 private hospitals in Australia and we are doing this with a Commonwealth guarantee, then state partnerships and then the individual private hospitals relying on the source income that they have from the ordinary operations. Those three things together will mean that our hospitals will be able to continue, an important part of this is that in return for our guarantee, there is a guarantee of flexibility, capacity, participation and staff retention from the private hospitals,” said Hunt.

A third of intensive care units are within the private system, and they will now be available to COVID-19 patients as a result of this announcement.

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“At any one time, there are approximately 2,200 ventilated intensive care beds in Australia. At the moment, we are using just over 20 of those for patients who are suffering from COVID-19,” said Deputy Chief Medical officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth.

“With immediate expansion, repurposing of other ventilator machines, including anaesthetic machines, and use of the private sector, we can expand to 4400. Our target capacity for ventilated intensive care beds in Australia currently stands at 7500.” 
Chief Nursing and Midwifery officer Alison McMillan asked nurses to understand that their profession is focused on patients and to be flexible with upcoming changes.
“This is going to mean that we are going to have to ask them to be flexible about how they work and where they work because the work that we are going to need them to do might require them to work in a public hospital or in an environment that they may not have worked in before,” she explained.

Australian death toll rises to 19.

An elderly man has died in a Tasmanian hospital, the second death for the state in just 24 hours.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein made the announcement this morning after the man’s passing in Royal Hobart Hospital overnight.

A woman in her 80s died in Burnie yesterday.

The state’s tally of confirmed cases sits at 69 after three women more tested positive for COVID-19.

Australia’s COVID-19 death tally now sits at 19, with an ACT woman also aged in her 80 passing away yesterday as well.

The current COVID-19 figures.

Mutating virus now has eight strains.

The coronavirus is mutating – as viruses do – and eight strains are now making the rounds globally, medical experts say.

The good news is that the mutations are not more lethal, said Trevor Bedford, whose website NextStrain.org is tracking the virus’ genome from samples provided to him from throughout the world.

Researchers are dissecting the genomes of coronavirus and discovering the strains that have emerged since the virus is thought to have first jumped from animals to humans in a Wuhan, China, wildlife market late last year.

The work shows how the virus is migrating and splitting into similar but new subtypes.

mutating virus
The virus has mutated into eight different strains. Image: Vincent Kalut / Photonews via Getty Images.

"In the literal sense of 'is it changing genetically?,' the answer is absolutely yes," Harvard University infectious disease epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told NPR.

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"What is in question is whether there's been any change that's important to the course of disease or the transmissibility or other things that we as humans care about."

The strains emerging are only slightly tweaked, with no variations in lethality, experts said.

"The observed rate of mutation (about two mutations per month) is completely normal for a virus," Bedford wrote on Twitter.

"Flu and the common cold have similar mutation rates. Even a bit faster for flu."

While the genomes retrieved so far are providing reassuring information about how the virus can be stopped and whether social distancing is working - indications are that it is - they do not provide more than a sketch, the experts said.

Scott Morrison's Monday afternoon conference.

A quick refresh if you missed the Prime Minister's latest announcements:

  • Affected employers will be given a $1500 "Job keeper payment" per fortnight to keep their employees so that Australians can keep their jobs even if work drys up. It's costing the government $130 billion over six months and is available to full time, part time, casual workers and sole traders.

Within an hour of the announcement, 8000 businesses had signed up to the plan, with payments to begin the first week of May.

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  • The partner income test for the Centrelink coronavirus payment has risen from $48,000 to $79,000, meaning if your significant other earns more than that and you lose your job, you aren't eligible.

Domestic violence funding "a splash in the pan". 

Domestic Violence NSW has welcomed the federal government's $150 million in funding as the country goes into isolation - some with their abusers - but says the money is just a "splash in the pan" for an already under-funded space.

The service is expecting domestic and family violence to rise in coming months while we're all in lockdown, with some services already experiencing up to a 40 to 50 per cent increase.

"We're particularly worried about how folks who are marginalised or in unsafe situations might be impacted by not having a safe place to make a call or check emails," said DVNSW spokesperson Renata Field.

If you are in trouble, or know someone who is, the numbers to call are:

1800 RESPECT

Lifeline 13 11 14

Italy records 812 deaths in 24 hours.

The death toll in Italy has risen by 812 in the last 24 hours, the Civil Protection Agency says, reversing two days of declines.

Italy, the world's hardest hit country which accounts for more than a third of all global fatalities, recorded its total death tally rise to 11,591 since the outbreak emerged in northern regions on February 21.

More positively, the number of new cases rose by just 4050, the lowest amount since March 17, reaching a total of 101,739.

Covid-19 Units At Cremona Hospital
A rescuer in Italy with painted hearts on his sealed suit at Cremona Hospital as the death toll in the country continues to climb. Image: Marco Mantovani/Getty.
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However, the decline in new infections may be partly explained by a reduction in the number of tests, which were the fewest for six days.

Italians have been under a country-wide lockdown for three weeks and officials said the restrictions, which were due to end on Friday, look certain for at least two more weeks.

Underscoring the dangers of the disease, the Italian doctors' association announced the deaths of 11 more doctors on Monday, bringing the total to 61.

Prince Charles out of isolation.

Prince Charles is out of self-isolation after seven days (after testing positive to coronavirus) and is in good health, his spokesman says.

Last week Clarence House revealed the 71-year-old had been tested after displaying mild symptoms, but was well enough to continue working while keeping himself quarantined at his Birkhall home in Scotland.

Prince Charles coronavirus
Prince Charles is in good health after testing positive to coronavirus. Image: Getty.

His wife Camilla will remain in isolation until the end of the week in case she too develops symptoms.

The Queen, 93, and her husband Philip, 98, are in good health, says Buckingham Palace.

The UK Prime Minister's team struck down by the virus.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings is self-isolating after developing coronavirus-like symptoms.

Cummings is the latest member of the Downing Street inner circle to either be diagnosed with COVID-19, or be forced to self-isolate as a result of developing symptoms associated with the virus.

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Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and the UK's Brexit negotiator David Frost have all been struck down with coronavirus, while chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack have quarantined themselves after noticing symptoms.

Wuhan, China, slowly returning to normal.

In good news that we all need to hear right now (that there's light at the end of this), Wuhan, China, the epicentre of coronavirus, is showing signs of normality.

Shopkeepers are reopening (however customers are scarce) after authorities lifted more anti-virus controls that kept tens of millions of people in their homes for two months.

Shopping Malls Are Gradually Back In Business In Wuhan
Staff members inside the Wuhan international plaza as shops start to reopen in the virus ground zero after two months of lockdown. Image: Getty Images.

"I'm so excited, I want to cry," said one woman. "I want to revenge shop."

70-80 per cent of the shops are still keeping limits on how many people can enter their stores, and dispensers of hand sanitiser have been set up outside.

Wuhan's bus and subway service has also resumed, with the final travel controls on the area due to lift April 8.

- With AAP.

Feature image: Getty.

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

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