South Australia Hospital staff simulate a drive through coronavirus testing at the Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP
South Australia Hospital staff simulate a drive through coronavirus testing at the Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP

‘Bombarded’: Coronavirus hotlines in meltdown

The nation's coronavirus hotlines have repeatedly crashed due to a massive volume of calls coming through.

In a press conference this afternoon, Health Minister Greg Hunt said a nationwide line has been "bombarded" and the Government is working to get more staff in to deal with the increased numbers.

"We've had problems with it before, but obviously it is being bombarded," he said.

"People are told to call the hotline and it's not working? - The latest advice I have is that there have now been over 20,000 calls received and answered on the hotline."

Yesterday, he said waiting times had reached six minutes.

It comes as a Sydney resident's experience trying to get tested after returning from Northern Italy with a cough has gone viral on Twitter.

He said he waited 30 minutes on the NSW Health hotline before being given conflicting information.

Meanwhile, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has told the public that not everyone needs to be tested for the coronavirus, even if they are displaying "acute respiratory symptoms".

South Australia Hospital staff simulate a drive through coronavirus testing at the Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP
South Australia Hospital staff simulate a drive through coronavirus testing at the Repatriation Hospital in Adelaide. Picture: David Mariuz/AAP

Dr Murphy sought to clear up the confusion over who should undergo to COVID-19 test after there was a surge of people requesting the test who didn't need it.

"Our focus at the moment is testing people who are returned travellers, who have acute respiratory symptoms - cough, sore throat and the like. And contacts of confirmed cases," he said.

"The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee will be making a recommendation about whether healthcare workers should also be tested in some circumstances, but that recommendation is still to come.

"But at the moment we are not recommending that general members of the community with acute respiratory symptoms - colds, flu, and the like - be tested."

Victoria's state coronavirus help hotlines have also crashed due to an influx of calls as the state's confirmed cases have risen by three - bringing the total number of cases to 18.

One case is a man in his 70s who returned to Melbourne from Singapore on March 6 at 12.15am on flight EK404, Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy says there’s been a surge of people requesting the test who didn’t need it. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy says there’s been a surge of people requesting the test who didn’t need it. Picture: Dean Lewins/AAP

"The flight manifest of EK404 is being obtained to begin contact tracing of passengers in the same and adjacent rows. He had earlier travelled to Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Singapore."

A second case is a household contact of a confirmed Victorian case who returned on the February 28 flight UA60 from the United States.

She is understood to be the first documented case of patient-to-patient transmission in the state, Dr Sutton confirmed.

The third case is a man in his 70s who arrived home in Melbourne from Los Angeles on March 8 on flight VA24. He presented to hospital for testing immediately and is now isolated at home with one household contact.

The state's dedicated COVID-19 phone line and the Nurse-On-Call Hotline have crumbled under the pressure "experiencing system issues due to extraordinary call volumes".

"We thank the community for their patience as we work to increase the capacity of the hotlines - including putting on additional staff," Ambulance Victoria said on Tuesday.

While the phone lines have crashed, one Melbourne doctor has resorted to seeing patients in their cars.

Former Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal puts on a moon suit, mask and shoe covers before meeting patients outside his Altona North clinic.

 

 

After calling ahead, patients drive to the car park and remain in their vehicles before Dr Haikerwal comes out to take a swab while protected from transmitting the disease.

"They park outside the building and we go out one entrance that is okay to go out of to do the swabs, collect the swabs and they can go off and self-isolate until their result comes back," Dr Haikerwal told 3AW radio on Tuesday.

"We go to our flu area and clean up all of our dirty garb... We are clean, they are clean. And nobody is contaminating the waiting area of rest of the practice, so it is clean."

The makeshift car park clinic is the first of many expected to open in the coming weeks at car parks and open spaces, near medical practices across Melbourne.

 

 

 

With AAP


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