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Novel Coronavirus information: Latest news for general practices

26 March 2020

While first published in January, this page is continually being added to and updated.

Novel coronavirus is an evolving international health concern. We are publishing regular updates on this page, but encourage health professionals to also view the Coronavirus for health professionals section of our website.

26 March update: 

COVID-19 Statistics for our region

COVID-19 Case Definition and testing advice

This information is available from NSW Health:

Confirmed Case

A person who tests positive to a validated specific SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid test or has the virus identified by electron microscopy or viral culture, at a reference laboratory.

Probable Case

A person with fever (≥38°C)1 or history of fever (e.g. night sweats, chills) OR acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) AND who is a household contact of a confirmed case of COVID-19, where testing has not been conducted.

Suspect Case criteria

A person who meets the following epidemiological and clinical criteria:

Epidemiological criteria Clinical criteria Action

Very high risk

  • Close contact (see Contact definition below) ​in the 14 days prior to illness onset with a c​onfirmed case
  • International travel in the 14 days prior to illness onset
  • Cruise ship passengers and crew who have travelled in the 14 days prior to illness onset
Fever (≥38°C)1 or history of fever OR acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) Test 2

High risk setting

  • Two or more cases of illness clinically consistent with COVID-19 (see clinical criteria) in the following settings:
  • ​Aged care and other residential care facilities
  • ​Military operational settings
  • Boarding school
  • Correctional facilities
  • Detention centres
  • Aboriginal rural and remote communities, in consultation with the local PHU
  • ​Settings where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred, in consultation with the local PHU
  •  Individual patients with illness clinically consistent with COVID-19 (see clinical criteria) in a geographically localised area with elevated risk of community transmission, as defined by PHUs
Fever (≥38°C)1 or history of fever (e.g. ​night sweats, chills) OR acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) Test (on site for aged care residents, where feasible)

Moderate risk

  • H​ealthcare workers, a​ged or residential care workers​
​Fever (≥38°C)1 or history of fever (e.g. night sweats, chills) OR acute respiratory infection (e.g. cough, shortness of breath, sore throat) Test
Background risk (No epidemiological risk factors) Hospitalised patients with fever (≥38°C)1 AND acute respiratory symptoms (e.g. cough, shortness of breath, sore throat)3 of an unknown cause Test

1. It is recommended that temperature is measured using a tympanic, oral or other thermometer proven to consistently and accurately represent core body temperature.

2. Testing household contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19 may not be indicated where resources are constrained. These cases would be considered ‘probable cases’ (see definition above).

 3. Clinical judgement should be exercised in testing hospitalised patients. All patients should attend an emergency department if clinical deterioration occurs.

*Country transmission risk assessment

This list is based on the risk of the person having been exposed to COVID-19 due to travel to a country with sustained community transmission and/or based on the patterns of travel between those countries and Australia, and/or the other epidemiological evidence.

HealthPathways Video

HealthPathways has produced a video to help you prepare and respond to COVID-19.

25 March Update:

Advice regarding Spirometry Testing:

General advice from the National Asthma Council (NAC) Australia for Spirometry testing during COVID-19 pandemic

  • General practices should take extra precautions if performing spirometry. In particular, GPs should consider whether the test is routine or urgent;  If urgent refer the patient to a respiratory laboratory service - if this is not available, the risk of infection from performing testing is very low if all recommended infection control measures are in place. These include:
    • Hand washing before and after each test
    • Using single patient use microbial / viral filters for every test
    • Test should be performed in a single room with no other people present
    • Staff should wear personal protective equipment; gloves, gown and surgical mask
    • Disinfection of all surfaces of the testing equipment and surrounds between patients
    • Single use (or patient's own) device and spacer for the administration of broncodilator, if required
    • Make sure social distancing protocols are taking place in any waiting room and/or reception area
    • Ask if it's possible for only the patient to be present for the test. No additional people with them, especially children. If they need someone else to be present at the apointment, ask if they can dial in from outside the clinic.
  • Finally, if GPs do not absolutely need to perform the test, then postpone it. Make sure the patients Asthma Action Plan / COPD Action Plan is up to date and they are using their medications correctly. Education is key at this time and keeping people out of clinics and at home is the message National Asthma Council has been getting.

24 March Update:

COVID-19 HealthPathways

We have a new suite of COVID-19 HealthPathways all of which can be accessed from the COVID-19 landing page.

These pathways provide regularly updated clinical support around assessment, management and referral information concerning the current outbreak.

The new individual pages are :

Health professionals can request HealthPathways access details online  

Expansion of telehealth services

From today, the Government will enable all vulnerable general practitioners and other vulnerable health professionals who are currently authorised to use telehealth item numbers, to use telehealth for all consultations with all their patients.

This includes health care providers who are:

  • aged at least 70 years old
  • Indigenous and aged at least 50 years old
  • pregnant
  • a parent of a child under 12 months
  • immune compromised.
  • have a chronic medical condition that results in increased risk from coronavirus infection.

For details on when telehealth items can be used please refer to MBS Online.

It is expected a more comprehensive telehealth, whole of population model of care, will be confirmed by the end of this week as Stage Four. This will include mental health and allied health consultations.

Printed Form Requirements Suspended Coronavirus

Services Australia has advised (20 March) that the mandatory requirement to physically print forms for patients will be suspended until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The following forms will be exempt from current mandatory printing requirements:

  • Bulk Bill Assignment Advice (DB4 form)
  • Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) Printed Statements (D1216S)
  • In-patient Medical Claim (IMC) Patient Claim Consent and Declaration
  • Lodgement Advice
  • Patient Claim Interactive (PCI) Statement
  • Online Eligibility Check (OEC) Disclaimer
  • Statement of Claim and Benefit Payment 
  • Pathology Combined Request form – Patient Claiming
  • Simplified Billing Assignment Claim form

These forms should be signed, printed, stored or sent electronically where possible. There will be no audits conducted during this period. 

Federal Government Updated Coronavirus Measures

The Federal Government announced updated Coronavirus Measures on 22 March including the following facilities will be restricted from opening from midday local time 23 March 2020:

  • Pubs, registered and licenced clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation)
  • Gyms and indoor sporting venues 
  • Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs
  • Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery

Read full measures

New Telehealth and Pathology Items for COVID-19 vulnerable and/or isolated patients

The Government has just announced the new Telehealth and Pathology Items for COVID-19 can now be claimed.

In response to the COVID-19 virus, 32 telehealth item numbers have been introduced to enable video consultation attendance for patients and health professionals at risk of the virus. The provision of telehealth services under these new item numbers is available for General Practitioners, Medical Practitioners, Nurse Practitioners and Allied Health Providers including psychologist, Occupational Therapists and Social Workers until September 2020.