Stock Images: Royal Children's Hopsital
Stock Images: Royal Children's Hopsital

Doctors cop racist coronavirus abuse

STAFF and patients at a Melbourne hospital have been racially abused amid panic over the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Parents at the Royal Children's Hospital have refused to let doctors and nurses of "Asian appearance" treat their children or are sitting away from other patients because of wrongful fears surrounding coronavirus, the hospital reports.

Dr Stuart Lewena, Director of Emergency Medicine at the hospital, told 3AW it had been happening to several staff for more than a week.

"We became aware of this a week ago when one of our staff came forward and let us know she'd been approached by the family of a child who she was going to be treating - the parents had requested that she not treat their child because of concerns she might have coronavirus," he said.

"That was clearly a comment made purely on her racial appearance. As a result of that we had a few more staff come forward and say that yes, they'd been experiencing similar behaviour. So we thought it was important we shone a light on that as the unacceptable behaviour that it is, and give our staff some strategies on how to deal with that."

The hospital has today launched an anti-racism warning. Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos condemned the prejudice, telling 3AW it was "plain wrong, and shows a complete disrespect".

"Suggesting the spread of this virus has anything to do with ethnicity is wrong and shows complete disrespect for our hardworking healthcare workers - who devote each and every day to treating sick children and saving lives," Ms Mikakos said in a statement on Thursday.

 

 

The Victorian Health Minister says the prejudice is ‘plain wrong’. Picture: James Ross/AAP
The Victorian Health Minister says the prejudice is ‘plain wrong’. Picture: James Ross/AAP

 

The government says while the outbreak in mainland China is of concern, the risk of exposure to coronavirus in Victoria currently remains very low, and certainly has nothing to do with a nurse, doctor or patient's ethnicity.

There have been seven confirmed coronavirus cases in Victoria, three of whom are currently in isolation after returning from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and another four who have recovered.

Eight tourists who were on the ship have already tested positive - the eighth to come down with the COVID-19 infection was a Victorian man whose partner had been diagnosed with the disease and they had returned to their home state together.

He probably had the infection while on the ship in Japan as he has since disclosed that he felt unwell then, Acting NT chief health officer Dianne Stephens said yesterday.

He was "more than likely in the recovery phase of the disease" now as he had not had any symptoms at the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin, she said.

Prof Stephens said she could not say why the infection had not been identified while the more than 3700 passengers and crew were in quarantine for a fortnight in Japan.

One person was in isolation at Howard Springs while a 61-year-old NSW woman went to Royal Darwin Hospital due to a cardiac condition. She was tested and isolated in a "negative pressure room", used for droplet infections such as tuberculosis, which is often seen in remote communities.

The Australians left in Darwin, mostly aged in their 60s and 70s, but some over 80, were past the halfway mark of their 14-day quarantine period - after being isolated for 14 days on the ship - and their morale was improving, Prof Stephens said.

Another 266 people already quarantined at Howard Springs who were evacuated from the epicentre of the virus at Wuhan in China left the facility last weekend.

Globally there are now 81,315 reported COVID-19 cases and 2770 deaths.

 

AUSTRALIA'S CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE

• Authorities are taking a "rings of containment" approach to limiting the spread of the virus, now formally known as COVID-19, by trying to contain any confirmed cases to individuals, families or affected units

• If a coronavirus pandemic is declared globally but the disease remains contained in Australia, authorities will keep doing what they are doing now

• If there is an increase in cases in Australia or transmission within the community, then authorities would cater a fresh response to the particular circumstances. For a small outbreak, public health units would trace who infected people had come into contact with and isolate people where appropriate to try to prevent further spread. In the case of a bigger spread, they would focus on limiting the speed at which the virus is being transmitted

• Such scenarios are addressed in Australia's coronavirus emergency response plan, which is designed to guide the health sector's response

• More than 3000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Australia. There have only been 15 cases confirmed in the general population, all of whom have now cleared the condition. Anyone with an unusual form of pneumonia is now being tested for the virus

• Every hospital has some process for isolating people if needed

• Both the federal and state governments have powers to force people to enter quarantine if they won't do so voluntarily

• Australia is reviewing its travel advice as virus situations evolve in various countries. Advice levels for northern Italy, Iran, Japan and Korea have been increased

• Health Minister Greg Hunt has told Australian athletes preparing for this year's Tokyo Olympics to "just keep training" as he hopes they have a fruitful Olympics ahead - but says they will be the first to know if there is any risk

• The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee will consider whether to relax the current ban on people entering Australia from China for university students. It would also only so if it's "very confident" the virus is under control in Chinese provinces other than Hubei

• Authorities could cancel events with major crowds, such as AFL games, but only as a "last resort", if the virus situation escalates