How we're preparing for Coronavirus

AS the world braces for the World Health Organisation to declare a Coronavirus pandemic, local authorities are considering implementing their own plans as the disease, also known as COVID-19, continues to spread from its Chinese origins.

Central Gippsland Health chief executive Frank Evans said the service was well aware of the current threat, and prepared in the event of a pandemic.

"We have comprehensive procedures and protocols that all staff are aware of and proficient in," he said.

"This covers our preparedness, containment, and management of individuals.

"As will all health services, Central Gippsland Health receives and implements all advice from the Department of Health and Human Services, including the recent communications around the COVID-19."

Ambulance Victoria director of emergency management Justin Dunlop said as per the organisation's standard precautions for infectious diseases, paramedics regularly used personal protection equipment.

"We are working closely with DHHS and Emergency Management Victoria to monitor and respond to the situation," Mr Dunlop said.

"We are continuing to update paramedics and staff accordingly."

As part of its pandemic plan, Fulham Correctional Centre will undertake a health care needs assessment of the prison population to identify high risk prisoners, introduce stringent infection prevention and control measures, and minimise contact with infected people.

While the Australian government activated its emergency response plan to an impending pandemic earlier this week, local government told the Gippsland Times its own plan would be activated by the municipal emergency response coordinator (in this case Victoria Police) when appropriate, with a request for municipal resources as needed to the Department of Health and Human Services, in its role as lead agency for human disease.

"While the Wellington Municipal Pandemic Influenza Plan was specifically written with influenza in mind, many of the actions and principles of the plan apply to any pandemic," a Wellington Shire Council spokesperson said.

"In this way, the shire is prepared to respond to a pandemic."

The council-facilitated Wellington Health and Medical Emergency Planning Subcommittee falls under the Wellington Municipal Emergency Management Plan Committee, meeting at least twice a year.

It develops and implements plans to mitigate, respond to and recover from health and medical emergencies within the municipality.

Before the subcommittee's next meeting in March, advice will be sought from Victoria Police and DHH S on what may trigger activation of the plan.

If needed, the subcommittee will meet more frequently to complete planning specific to the threat of Coronavirus.

Partner organisations in the subcommittee include Central Gippsland Health, Yarram District Health Services, Ramahyuck Aboriginal Corporation, Ambulance Victoria, Red Cross, Victoria Police, the Australian Defence Force, Uniting and the Gippsland Primary Health Network.

Once activated, the plan has five phases - the preparation phase, standby phase, response phase, stand down phase and recovery phase.

The preparation phase includes putting business continuity plans in place and developing external communication and action plans.

The standby phase means beginning arrangements for an impending pandemic, while the response phase implements public health control measures.

Community health services, such as Central Gippsland Health and Yarram and District Health Service, will ensure vulnerable people are identified and their needs addressed, essential health services are maintained (such as home and community care, district nursing, maternal and child health services), and vaccinations are provided for the local community (when or if available).

General practices (such as Heyfield Medical Centre, Maffra Medical Group, Inglis Medical Centre, and so on) will develop processes for separating, triaging, assessing and admitting people with influenza-like illness, ensuring suspected cases are notified to the Department of Health and Human Services' Communicable Disease Prevention and Control section.

The stand down phase includes preparing for further waves of the pandemic and debriefing on lessons learnt, and the recovery phase assists the community to resume normal functioning.

Also included in the document is a mass vaccinations plan, with vaccination centres earmarked at the Regent Theatre and Yarram Hub, Rosedale multi-purpose centre, Sale Baptist Church, Gippsland Regional Sporting Complex, and Maffra and Heyfield memorial halls.

A vaccine is yet to be developed for the Coronavirus.

In drafting the plan, the council consulted with Fulham Correctional Centre, RAAF Base, East Sale, residential aged and disability services, ExxonMobil offshore living quarters and the Department of Education and Training to ensure their own pandemic plans were prepared.

The Gippsland Times has been speaking with Defence in relation to the expected role RAAF Base, East Sale, would play in the event COVID-19 spreads in Australia. It is currently preparing a response.

According to the plan, Wellington Shire's protocol follows the Victorian Health Management Plan for Pandemic Influenza 2014, which indicates response should be activated when cases are detected in Australia.

However, as of yesterday morning, the World Health Organisation was yet to escalate COVID-19 from epidemic to pandemic status.

People can view the Wellington Municipal Pandemic Influenza Plan online.

First reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 2019, COVID-19 has now spread to more than 81,109 cases globally, resulting in more than 2760 deaths.

The number of new cases reported outside China exceeded the number of new cases in China for the first time on Wednesday.

Australia has 22 recorded cases but no deaths, and four confirmed cases in Victoria.

About two per cent of people infected have died. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough.

Most people (about 80 per cent) recover from the disease without needing special treatment.

One in six people who contract COVID-19 become seriously ill and develop breathing difficulties.

Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should phone the Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 675 398. Triple zero (000) is for emergencies only.