Australia’s two most populated states are weighing up tougher lockdown measures if the exponential growth in new coronavirus cases doesn't slow.
NSW and Victoria, home to a combined 14 million people, are eyeing further restrictions as the growth in cases continue to surge nationally – reaching 2,799 on Thursday.
Of those cases, 1,749 are in NSW and Victoria.
There were 370 new cases announced nationally on Thursday, another sharp rise from the previous day’s total of 290. The death toll shot up by four to 13.
Earlier this week Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews insisted “there will be a stage three” in the wake of Scott Morrison’s latest restrictions on Tuesday for businesses and public gatherings.
And NSW Premier Gladys Berejeklian is looking to also move ahead of Scott Morrison, who has so far shown reluctance to implement a stringent lockdown in his bid to soften the blow on businesses.
"I'm saying to the community that if we're not convinced we've had a sufficient amount of success, NSW will have to take further action and that's a position I've been clear on from day one," Ms Berejiklian said.
On Friday morning, she hinted new restrictions were imminent.
“I'm supported by experts on a daily basis and I will be going into that meeting putting a case for NSW, but I want to assure the community that no matter what decisions are under taken today or tomorrow in the next few days or the next few weeks, there is no need to panic,” she said.
“If NSW has to take difficult decisions we will.
“We are at a stage where we want the community to community transmission. That's critical for us to make sure the virus doesn't spread and we don't have more people in hospital than we can cope with.”
However NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said the full effect of the second stage of shutdowns wouldn't be known for some days.
Health authorities are hopeful the measures should be enough if people heeded the message to stay home and social distance. However Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has warned tougher social restrictions would be needed if people didn't take social distancing seriously.
Australia’s ICU beds could be gone in days, study warns
It comes as a worrying new study published by the Medical Journal of Australia predicts Australia could be out of ICU beds in just nine days.
"ICU capacity will be exceeded at around 22,000 COVID-19 cases sometime around April 5 if public health measures fail to curb the rate of growth," the study said.
Experts compared real data of the infection in Italy to forecast how many Australians will need an intensive care unit bed in the coming weeks.
Australia currently has around 2,200 ICU beds nationwide, the study said.
"Over the coming months it's going to take courage, brains and a concerted unified effort to manage the infection," said Professor Nick Talley, who was involved in the study.
"While the results reported may represent a worst-case scenario and may not come to pass, we must better prepare, now," he wrote.
Military style operation needed in hospitals, professor warns
There are calls to begin increasing ICU capacity and either temporarily building or turning other locations into dedicated coronavirus hospitals.
China gained worldwide praise for their ability to build two hospitals in Wuhan within days and there are calls for Australia to act now to prevent scenes seen in Italy and Spain where their health systems have been pushed to breaking point.
Swiss doctor Professor Paolo Ferrari criticised the government for stepping in too late to stop the spread of the virus and warned about the need to increase ICU beds.
Under his advice, the Swiss region of Ticino grew its intensive care capacity ten days before it even had one positive case, turning different locations into coronavirus-dedicated hospitals.
Professor Talley said that in order to take action, "bureaucrats must step to the sidelines."
"We will also require our health system leadership to understand at a time like this the structure in every hospital should be a military-like command-and-control one," he said.
One precautionary measure being taken by Victoria thus far involved the preparation of The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre which could transform into a huge intensive care hospital if needed, The Age reported Friday.
Victoria has 475 ICU beds currently but is expecting about 2,000 ICU patients at the virus’s peak.
The use of public spaces as makeshift facilities is commonplace in Europe during the outbreak, notably in Madrid where an ice rink has been transformed into a morgue.
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