Aussie exodus as expats race to get home


Frantic Australians are packing up and moving back from London, with the Australian High Commission flooded with calls for advice.

More than 1200 concerned Australians have rang in seeking information about how to get back to Australia as airlines cancel 90 per cent of their international flights.

Anxious Australians on working holidays were heading home, packing up flats and advertising their rooms online.

Many have lost their jobs in bars and restaurants because of the UK Government's request for people to stay at home and stop contact with people.

It comes as the number of fatalities in the UK rose 33 in a day, to 104, as the coronavirus outbreak spreads.


A traveller wearing a protective suit moves her luggage at Heathrow Airport in London. Picture: AP
A traveller wearing a protective suit moves her luggage at Heathrow Airport in London. Picture: AP


George Brandis, Australia's High Commissioner to the UK, has been manning the phones to help out stranded Australians with travel advice.

"With the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the world is experiencing an unprecedented public health challenge," he said.

"All of us are anxious about the implications of coronavirus.

"As Australians abroad, we know that distance from home is felt most acutely during times of uncertainty. Throughout this emergency, Australia House will continue to help Australians here in the United Kingdom. You are not alone and together we will come through this."

The Aussies in London Facebook page, which has more than 50,000 members, has become a going home notice board.

Rooms were going across London, with others posting advertisements for "moving home" sales.


People queue at ticket machines at Heathrow Airport as travellers move to get home. Picture: AP
People queue at ticket machines at Heathrow Airport as travellers move to get home. Picture: AP


Flights from London to Melbourne one way next week on Qantas were filling fast, with the cheapest seats already sold out.

Some fares were now almost $A2000 for a one-way ticket, however many parents have been offering to help out with the costs of getting their adult children back home.

One Australian living in London told News Corp Australia.

"My parents are telling me to come home, but I'm not sure what to do," the woman said.

Matt Allen posted: "Unfortunately, because we're musos, all the work is cancelled here and we're heading back home!

"Anyone interested in a great deal on a Nord & Amp? £1000 ($A2000) for the lot!"

It comes amid reports of further lockdowns expected across London, with people fearing they will get stuck if they do not get on a flight before the weekend.


TPassengers wait for flights at Heathrow. Picture: AP
TPassengers wait for flights at Heathrow. Picture: AP


Some airlines were knocking people back despite them having valid tickets.

"Heads up: just been turned away at Heathrow. They are no longer transiting through to international destinations. Must be an incredibly recent decision," Lachlan Wells posted.

The Australian Government this week urged Australians abroad to come home, as the world struggles to cope with the outbreak.


Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump doubled down on his criticism of China's handling of the coronavirus as US authorities warned the threat to young people is bigger than many realise.

Mr Trump on Wednesday (local time) invoked a "war-time" measure that gives the federal government the power to marshal the private sector for assistance.

The Defense Production Act would help increase medical supplies, Mr Trump said, amid fears the nation faces a critical lack of intensive care beds, ventilators and protective equipment to cope with the disease's predicted peak in about 45 days.




He also despatched two naval hospital ships to New York and a West Coast location to be determined, to offer more beds to US hotspots.

Mr Trump again referred to COVID-19 as the "Chinese Virus" with which America was fighting a war, and insisted he wasn't being racist.

"Because it comes from China," Mr Trump said, when asked why he kept using the term.

"That's why. I want to be accurate."

Mr Trump also said China had accused US soldiers of spreading the virus, and that they "tried to say at one point, maybe they stopped saying now, that it was caused by American soldiers".

"That can't happen. It's not going to happen. Not as long as I'm president," Mr Trump said.

"It comes from China.

"It's not racist at all. No, not at all."

Relations between China and the US have deteriorated amid the virus fallout, with Beijing expelling all American journalists this week.

It came as the infectious diseases specialist heading the White House effort said increased testing would see a "huge spike" of diagnoses in the next four to five days and that they would potentially include more young people than expected.




"There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill, and very seriously ill, in the ICU," said Dr Deborah Birx at the White House.

Early messaging that the young would likely not fall ill may have overly-minimized their risk, she said, which could be "disastrous".

"We think part of this may be that people heeded the early data coming out of China and coming out of South Korea about the elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions were at particular risk," Dr Birx said.

"It may have been that the millennial generation, our largest generation, our future generation, that will carry us through for the next multiple decades - there may be a disproportionate number of infections among that group," she said.


Donald Trump, with Justin Trudeau, announced the US and Canada will temporarily close their border to “non-essential traffic” because of the coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images
Donald Trump, with Justin Trudeau, announced the US and Canada will temporarily close their border to “non-essential traffic” because of the coronavirus. Picture: Getty Images


"And so, even if it's a rare occurrence, it may be seen more frequently in that group and be evident now."

Dr Birx repeated her warning for young Americans, many of whom are out of school and work, to stop treating the outbreak as a "snow day", due to a false sense of security.

It came as the US and Canada announced they had agreed to close their border, which is the longest in the world, to all but essential travel.

Mr Trump tweeted the plan early Wednesday (local time), and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the restrictions "will last in place as long as we feel that they need to last. We will again closely coordinate on that as well."


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned schools might be shut down for around six months if there is a nationwide closure due to coronavirus.

The issue of school closures has been one of the most contentious for many parents over the past few days as they grapple with the new social distancing measures and the ban on mass gatherings.

Mr Morrison told Sky News while he doesn't judge parents who keep their children home, a nationwide shutdown would "cost tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs."

He said the virus had "pushed pause on the global economy".


Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy say school closures would cause chaos. Picture: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy say school closures would cause chaos. Picture: AAP

"The coronavirus has a very limited impact on younger people, particularly children," he said.

"If we close schools down when there isn't a health reason for doing it then the dislocation and disruption that provides, more broadly, can be very dangerous."

"What you do (to combat coronavirus) you have to keep doing for six months, if you shut (schools) down they won't open again, and that means your children will miss effectively a whole year of their education."


Natalie Atkinson is keeping her kids in school until further advice. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Natalie Atkinson is keeping her kids in school until further advice. Picture: Tricia Watkinson


Mr Morrison told Sky News people spreading disinformation and false stories about the virus are "despicable".

"For those who are engage in this activity, in feeding out spurious and misleading information, that is a very dangerous and reckless thing you are doing," he said.

"You are a danger to your fellow countrymen and women and that is something that I think is despicable behaviour."

"It's not funny, or clever, it's downright dangerous."





Medicine cabinet staple ibuprofen and aspirin may increase the blood pressure of COVID-19 patients and people overseas are being warned not to use them.

Aussies have stockpiled the drugs to treat fever and aches and pains if they come down with the virus but Australian medical experts are urging people to use paracetamol instead.

The advice comes as many Australians who need to get a repeat prescription or who have other illnesses are now fearful of visiting their doctors surgery in case they are infected with COVID-19.



When asked about ibuprofen, the head of pain services at Royal Melbourne Hospital Professor Malcolm Hogg told News Corp there was emerging evidence that COVID-19 activated a process in the lungs that led to the release of angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE2) which caused blood pressure to rise.

Aussies have been stockpiling paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Aussies have been stockpiling paracetamol and ibuprofen.

"Ibuprofen uniquely appears to increase the levels of this chemical in the body," he said.

This means that working together the virus and the drug could lead to a more severe spike in blood pressure levels that could endanger the health of the patient.

"If you get the flu your blood pressure usually goes down so this is clinically unique," he said of COVID-19's ability to increase blood pressure.

Ibuprofen is one of a class of medications called non-steroidal anti-inflammatories that also include arthritis medications like Celebrex and Voltaren as well as aspirin and it was possible these medications could also worsen the effects of the virus on blood pressure, Prof. Hogg said.

At present none of these effects have been scientifically proven but there were enough indications in small studies to suggest people look for alternative remedies if they came down with the virus, he said.


Patients taking these medications on a long-term basis to treat pain should continue to take them but if they came down with the virus they should speak to their doctor about using an alternative, he said.

The health minister of France Olivier Véran earlier this week issued a blunt warning about the drugs.



The medical journal The Lancet published a recent letter which proposed that certain drugs increased the number of so-called ACE2 receptors on the surfaces of cells.

The UK's National Health Service website previously recommended both paracetamol and ibuprofen, but has since changed its advice to say that while "there is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus (COVID-19) worse … until we have more information, take paracetamol to treat the symptoms of coronavirus, unless your doctor has told you paracetamol is not suitable for you."




Other experts have said using the drugs could extend the duration of the virus because they brought down fever and short circuited the body's defence mechanism against the virus which meant the symptoms may last longer and that patients may be contagious for longer.

Meanwhile, there is a risk people sick with the virus may have left germs in the waiting room or infected staff who are not yet symptomatic and they may pass on the virus to others.




The Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian College of General practitioners have been demanding the government make it possible for them to provide all consultations that don't need a physical examination via telehealth.

However the government is restricting bulk billed telehealth rebates to only certain people.

Here is what you have to do to qualify for a telehealth consultation via video conference or telephone:

(a) You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 virus but are not a patient of a hospital; or

(b) You have been required to isolate yourself in quarantine under new COVID19 rules applying to travellers or people who have been in contact with a COVID19 infected person; or

(c) You are considered more susceptible to the COVID-19 virus being a person who is:

(i) at least 70 years old; or

(ii) at least 50 years old and is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent; or

(iii) is pregnant; or

(iv) is a parent of a child under 12 months; or

(v) is already under treatment for chronic health conditions or is immune compromised; or

(d) You meet the current national triage protocol criteria for suspected COVID-19 infection.


University students are stepping up to help out with the COVID-19 pandemic, as hospitals and clinics run short on nurses and job ads for health workers triple.

Nursing students are being fast-tracked through studies to get them on the job sooner, or being trained for AIN (assistant in nursing) positions so they can work part time while completing their degrees.

Meanwhile, Mr Morrison announced the government would relax international student nurse visa work conditions.

"We're not importing the nurses into Australia, that would obviously be against the travel advice and bans that already have been in place for some time. But those 20,000 student nurses that we have in Australia, they're going to be available to help and support the health effort right across the country, as directed by our health officials and they can be engaged for that purpose," he said.

The queue for testing at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards
The queue for testing at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Jason Edwards

Exclusive Adzuna data reveals job ads for health professionals have almost tripled since January - with about 6500 roles now available across Australia.

The job site recorded 196 per cent job ad growth in the health sector, and a 65 per cent spike for nurses specifically.

The number of job ads including the keyword "COVID-19" jumped from 25 to 53 in the past day.

Adzuna Australia country manager Tejas Deshpande said the healthcare sector had always had Australia's largest share of jobs but demand had increased in the first quarter of the year.

"With the COVID-19 outbreak, we have also started seeing jobs being listed as a healthcare operator, hotline consultant, and registered nurses for the testing clinics related to the coronavirus," he said.



Victorian Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said the Department of Health and Human Services was also actively working through the details of how medical, nursing, midwifery, paramedic and allied health students could be deployed as part of Victoria's COVID-19 response.

"Departmental staff have also recently identified several dozen qualified people from the University medical sector that may be drawn upon in the future to assist with the State response to COVID-19," she said.

"The willingness of these dedicated professionals to offer up their skills on short notice has been extraordinary."

Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland President Dr Dilip Dhupelia has called on all retired doctors to register to return to work to help manage COVID-19 demands.

Given many are elderly and would be at higher risk from the virus they will not be dealing with potentially infectious patients first hand but are more likely to be employed in telehealth or other roles.

Dr Dhupelia said retired doctors could register to help by emailing or phoning AMA Queensland on 07 3872 2222.