More virus tests check on community spread

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Content provided by AAP

Thousands more Australians will be checked for coronavirus as states expand their testing regimes to rout out any spread among the wider community.

While the rate of new infections has slowed dramatically, Australians are being warned restrictions in place to contain the virus will stay for many more weeks.

Health authorities say the pandemic is moving into a containment phase.

They want to keep a close eye on possible community transmissions, where new diagnoses aren’t linked to known cases or people who have brought the virus back from overseas.

Any Victorians and Western Australians showing symptoms of the virus – fever, shortness of breath, cough or sore throat – can now be tested.

NSW has expanded its testing regime to include anyone showing symptoms who lives in one of the virus hotspots of Penrith, Sydney’s inner west, Liverpool, Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra, Blacktown, Cumberland, Westmead, Ryde, Manning and Lake Macquarie.

In Queensland, symptomatic people in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Cairns or an indigenous community can be tested.

Almost 6400 Australians have caught the virus and more than half of them have recovered.

There have been 61 deaths.

A cluster of cases in north-western Tasmania has led to two hospitals being closed and some 5000 people put in quarantine.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy blamed the outbreak on “an illegal dinner party of medical workers”.

“The level of vigilance that you have to have, whatever your measures will be, is going to be huge. You have to be prepared to deal with further outbreaks,” he told a group of New Zealand politicians.

State and federal leaders will meet later this week to discuss when restrictions on travel and gatherings of people can be relaxed.

“I do want to caution Australians that we’re not in that phase yet … we’re many weeks away from being in a place like that,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Seven’s Sunrise.

He said any lifting of restrictions would need to be backed up by a strong health system and even stronger testing regime.

“You’ve seen in places like Singapore and Sweden and other parts of the world where the virus has just taken off again.”

New Treasury modelling shows Australia’s unemployment rate is expected to nearly double to 10 per cent because of the pandemic.

But it was slated to reach as high as 15 per cent without government support.

The prime minister acknowledged mass job losses were taking a “heartbreaking” toll.

Meanwhile, the federal government is considering subsidising domestic flights for airlines hammered by the pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has been working directly with Qantas and Virgin on ways to subsidise flights between major cities and is expected to announce a multi-million dollar rescue deal.

Virgin was again placed in a trading halt ahead of an announcement to the Australian stock exchange on Tuesday afternoon.

The airline cited ongoing discussions involving financial assistance and restructuring alternatives.

Mr Morrison said any public funding would be spread across the entire sector.

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