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Photograph: Kate Trifo / Unsplash

NSW to begin widespread coronavirus testing within weeks

It would mark a major milestone in the state's efforts to contain the coronavirus

Written by
Maxim Boon

The majority of headlines from around the world in recent days have been pretty damn bleak. But Australia has reason to be a lot more optimistic for the future. The phase 3 ‘suppression’ protocols we’ve been living under for the past few weeks, while brutal for the economy, have begun producing encouraging results, ‘flattening the curve’ of new Covid-19 cases across Australia at a speed that has surpassed even the most generous projections. 

On April 15, the NSW premier put out a request for anyone living in certain suburbs – where clusters via community transmission have been identified – who has experienced even the mildest symptoms of Covid-19 to get tested. Within 24 hours, 3,200 Sydneysiders had undergone the coronavirus rapid screening, and just 11 new cases were confirmed. For the second day in a row, NSW recorded no new deaths from the virus.

Now, state authorities are requesting that anyone working with those most vulnerable to Covid-19 – those with disabilities, the elderly, and anyone with a pre-existing medical issue or compromised immune system – from anywhere in NSW, be tested if they have any onset of symptoms, no matter how mild. 

During the daily media briefing on April 16, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr Kerry Chant, also indicated that NSW might soon begin screening the general population for Covid-19, a process that should greatly reduce the risk of uncontrolled community transmission. The state’s medical experts will make their final decision on whether to begin rolling out the broader testing regime in seven days, Chant said. This would be a major milestone for Australia’s fight against the deadly pandemic, which might allow certain social restrictions to be relaxed or even lifted altogether. 

Last week, the premier said that, should medical experts deem it safe, some restrictions could be lifted within weeks, perhaps as early as May 1. Since then, authorities have cautioned the Australian public not to become complacent about physical distancing, but in the April 16 media briefing, premier Gladys Berejiklian once again suggested that the state might begin repealing current social regulations next month.

When asked about when schools might reopen, Berejiklian said that students were likely to return in week three of the second term, from the week beginning May 10, adding that reopening schools would be one of the first actions in the process of relaxing current restrictions. However, she was also clear that, "until there is a vaccine we will have to live with this virus”, adding that physical distancing protocols would continue to be in effect for the foreseeable future.

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