Rohan Kelly
Rohan Kelly

PM to change hospitals as new virus test on the way

Australia is changing how intensive care units are configured and stepping up social isolation measures as the country moves into the next phase of coronavirus containment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his newly-formed National Cabinet has activated the second stage of the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for COVID-19, to ensure resources are properly allocated where needed and the risks to vulnerable people in the community are mitigated.

"These actions include changes to intensive care unit configurations, social isolation, fever clinics and restrictions on mass gatherings," he said.

"The National Cabinet will meet again this week to consider further advice from the AHPPC on events held indoors and in other closed spaced environments and further advice on actions to further protect aged care facilities."

Mr Morrison said all the actions were based on advice from Australia's leading medical experts, as two more deaths from coronavirus were reported in Sydney, taking the national total to five.

"Based on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the National Cabinet agreed that our core objective now is to slow the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia by taking additional steps to reduce community transmission," he said.

"We must ensure our health system can care for the most vulnerable, in particular the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions."

The measures include a universal precautionary self-isolation requirement on all international arrivals, effective as of today.

"This means that all people - whether they be citizens, residents or visitors - will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Australia," Mr Morrison said.

Travellers exit the International Airport in Sydney as new coronavirus measures have been announced over the weekend. Picture: Rohan Kelly
Travellers exit the International Airport in Sydney as new coronavirus measures have been announced over the weekend. Picture: Rohan Kelly

"Enhanced screening for arrivals will remain in place to identify anyone arriving sick or with symptoms of COVID-19."

Special arrangements have been put in place for passengers transiting through Australia to the Pacific Island countries as that is the only way they can get home.

"Limited exemptions will apply for flight crews, who will be expected to monitor their health and practice social distancing while they are in Australia," Mr Morrison said

The federal government has also banned cruise ships from foreign ports from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.

This restriction will help avoid the risk of a cruise ship arriving with a mass outbreak of the virus and putting significant pressure on our health system.

Arrangements will be made for certain cruise ships already in transit to enable Australian citizens and permanent residents to get off those ships.

Non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people are now banned.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says changes to Australians’ day-to-day lives will help curb the spread of COVID-19. Picture: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says changes to Australians’ day-to-day lives will help curb the spread of COVID-19. Picture: AAP


A new test for COVID-19 made in the US will begin arriving in Australia this week as stocks of a key reagent needed for testing dwindle in some states.

Diagnostic manufacturer Roche has told News Corp it has teams expediting development of new tests to be used in response to the urgent need for patient testing during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

"To bring this new solution to the market has been a truly global effort: The assay has been developed in Pleasanton, US, and is being produced in Branchburg, US. The system on which this assay is run is produced in Rotkreuz, Switzerland," the company said.

The company said it would allocate the new test to places "where they are needed most and can be most effective - the patient comes first."

"We are prioritising those laboratories with the highest ability to implement routine testing (for example, those with the necessary instruments in place and consumable products needed to run the tests) combined with the highest need on a country level."

"This is exactly why the first batches of the new test will arrive in Australia this coming week, " the company said.

Roche said the demand for the test that has been used to date has been higher in Australia than anyone could have predicted and its teams have been working relentlessly to meet demands this coming week.

It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said crucial parts required as part of COVID-19 testing including swabs are in short supply and Australian authorities are working to fix the issue.

Speaking on 3AW this morning, he said there had been a "supply chain disruption" in the US that had also affected European nations but it was being worked through.

When asked if rationing was on the table, the prime minister said that wasn't required now but many measures would be considered moving forward.

"There will be a range of measures that need to be considered every day," he said.

"Will we have to do things that we've never done before? Yes we will."

The prime minister refused to rule out a total lockdown like that in Italy, but said it would be considered "proportionately".


Earlier Mr Morrison defended tough news measures to protect Australians from the coronavirus.

"The actions we are taking now, especially on the mass gatherings, is well ahead of the rest of the world that entered into these arrangements when they had far many cases - far many more cases," Mr Morrison told Sunrise today.

"There are many countries, because they did not."

The prime minister also praised supermarket chain Woolworths for dedicating the first hour of shopping to the elderly and people with disabilities only.

"This is a great move by one of the supermarkets … They are providing particular times when pensioners … can go to the supermarkets. Common sense, great idea, well done. Let's look after each other and help each other out," he said.

Mr Morrison also reassured Australians he was in good health despite sounding croaky.

"A lot of meetings but I can tell you I am feeling fine. There is a lot of work to do, and everyone is working well together," he said.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is at home recovering after being diagnosed with coronavirus on Friday.

Mr Morrison, who attended a cabinet meeting with Mr Dutton three days before his diagnosis, said he had not been tested for the virus.

"There's no need. I have no symptoms of the coronavirus," the prime minister told Sky News.

"Testing resources are scarce resources and they should only be used where the medical advice suggests a test should be conducted."


A clinical trial evaluating a vaccine designed to protect against the new coronavirus will begin on Monday (US time), according to a US government official.

Testing will begin with 45 young, healthy volunteers with different doses of shots co-developed by NIH and Moderna Inc.

Public health officials said it will take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine.

There's no chance participants could get infected from the shots, because they don't contain the virus itself.

The goal is purely to check that the vaccines show no worrisome side effects, setting the stage for larger tests.

Dozens of research groups around the world are racing to create a vaccine as COVID-19 cases continue to grow.

Importantly, they're pursuing different types of vaccines - some researchers are even aiming for temporary vaccines, such as shots that might guard people's health a month or two at a time while longer-lasting protection is developed.

The worldwide outbreak has made more than 156,000 people ill and left more than 5800 dead.

The vast majority of people recover.

According to the World Health Organisation, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three weeks to six weeks to recover. The National Institutes of Health is funding the trial, which is taking place at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, the official said.

Victoria has declared a state of emergency and the ACT is next in line with more states expected to follow after Australia's coronavirus death toll rose to five.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews made the declaration this morning, with the ACT set to follow suit in the afternoon.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the declarations were about giving state and territory governments the powers to protect public health and slow the spread of the virus.

"A state of emergency is not a state of panic," he told Nine Network today.

A state of emergency declaration allows a government to impose policies it would normally not be allowed to do, such as detain people or restrict movements.

Meanwhile, the federal government is resisting pressure to close schools nationwide, with Mr Morrison pointing to risks associated with a shutdown.

He's concerned nurses and medical staff could be forced to stay home to look after children or vulnerable grandparents could be tapped into childminding.

"Younger people in our population are actually less at risk and there are great risks right now in school closures," he told the Nine Network.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said medical advice given to the government warned the spread could worsen if unsupervised children mingled in the community.

"Not having students at school could actually lead to a greater risk of the virus spreading," he told ABC radio.

Former Australian Medical Association president Kerryn Phelps said it seemed inevitable that schools, universities and daycare centres would close.




It comes as Italy's coronavirus death toll has soared by 368 in a day, as it skyrocketed towards China's shocking figure.

And Spain has seen its fatalities hit 288 - almost doubling in a day - which forced it to call in the army.

The government has declared a state of emergency and locked down the country's 47 million people for 15 days.

Helicopters and drones were used to warn people to stay inside, as police patrolled the streets.

In tourist hot spots, the warnings were blasted in English: "Attention please. An emergency state has been activated due to the coronavirus.

"You must stay safely at your accommodation or home and follow instructions from local authorities.

"Avoid beach areas and promenades. Keep a safe distance from other people.

"Stay at home. Thank you and sorry for the inconvenience."


Spain was likely to follow Italy's deadly trajectory, as its Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez closed schools, universities, restaurants and bars.

His wife Begona Gomez has tested positive for the virus and they remain in the official government residence in Madrid.

There are now 1809 deaths in Italy from 24,700 cases, while China has lost 3199 from 80,000 cases, as it now starts to limit the rate of new infections.

Pope Francis walked alone through the streets of Rome, praying for the "end of the pandemic".

A photograph of him cutting a lonely figure through the Eternal City was a poignant reminder of the impact of the virus, which was far from contained.

"His intention was also addressed to health workers, doctors, nurses, and to those who in these days, with their work, guarantee the functioning of society," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.


Iraq declared a week-long curfew early today, while Islamic State has told its fighters to avoid Europe because of the coronavirus.

Across the world there have been more than 167,000 confirmed cases, although that number could be higher because many people have mild symptoms and have not been tested.

There have been 6456 confirmed deaths, with that figure expected to climb.

There have been 35 deaths in the UK, as Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that "our generation has never been tested like this."

Schools remain open in the UK, however anxious parents in WhatsApp groups were already refusing to send their children to school.


France and Ireland has closed schools, while Israel has closed shops and will employ sophisticated spying technology to ensure residents follow the restrictions.

"All means will be used to fight the spread of the coronavirus," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Germany has announced it will close its borders with France, Austria, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Denmark.

Ireland, just days before St Patrick's Day, has also shut all pubs until March 29 and the Netherlands has closed schools.

Portugal has also closed its borders with Spain.








Meanwhile, TV icon Richard Wilkins has tested positive to the deadly coronavirus.

The Weekend Today host, who was missing from screens this weekend, contracted the virus after meeting with Rita Wilson while she was in Sydney.

The singer-actress has been self-isolating with her husband, Tom Hanks, after testing positive for the infection on Thursday.

She made a guest appearance on Today Extra and at the Sydney Opera House when she performed on March 7.

Radio host Ben Fordham confirmed Wilkins testing positive on Twitter late Sunday.

He posted: "Breaking - Big love to @RichardWilkins who has tested positive to coronavirus."

Confirmation of his infection comes as the virus claims the lives of two more people in Australia - two elderly women, aged 90 and 77, who died in NSW.

NSW Health confirmed the deaths on Sunday - bringing the nation's death toll to five.

"A 90-year-old woman - a resident of Dorothy Henderson Lodge - died (on Saturday)," a spokesman said.

"Testing has confirmed that she had COVID-19."

It is understood the other woman, from Noosaville on the Sunshine Coast, died in a Sydney hospital on Friday.

Health authorities believe she contracted the coronavirus from her daughter who had returned from San Francisco two weeks earlier and it was not known at the time that either woman had COVID-19.

Workers convert a university sports field into a new intensive care unit, outside the San Raffaele hospital, in Milan, Italy. Picture: AP
Workers convert a university sports field into a new intensive care unit, outside the San Raffaele hospital, in Milan, Italy. Picture: AP

The woman had been on a flight to Sydney on March 13 when her condition deteriorated significantly.

She was taken to hospital immediately upon landing but could not be resuscitated.

"The woman had recently arrived in Sydney and testing has confirmed the woman had COVID-19," the spokesman said.

"NSW Health are working with state health authorities to trace close contacts of the deceased woman.

"Our condolences are with the family and friends of both women at this time."



Victoria's museums and art galleries will be closed indefinitely in an effort to contain the coronavirus and protect those most at risk.

The Arts Centre Melbourne, Geelong Arts Centre, Melbourne Recital Centre, Museums Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria and State Library of Victoria will all be closed from Monday.

"It is my deep belief that the gallery is a place for everyone and when we reopen we will ensure that the gallery continues to be a welcoming and inspiring place for the community," NGV director Tony Ellwood said in a statement on Sunday night.

"In the meantime, we will do our best to offer the community access to the State NGV Collection virtually, much of which is available online, where our audiences can still benefit from one of the world's best collections of art and design."



Shortages across Coles and Woolworths nationwide are prompting the supermarket giants to introduce new restrictions to ensure more customers have access to goods.

Coles announced on Sunday shoppers will now only be able to buy two packs of pasta, flour, rice, paper towels, tissues, hand sanitiser and mince - including beef, pork, lamb, chicken and turkey - per shop "to allow everyone the opportunity to purchase staple items".

Its new restrictions follow limits being placed on toilet paper purchases last week after panic buyers left shelves empty nationwide.

As the situation around Coronavirus continues to develop, we want to ensure you have the most up to date information on...

Posted by Coles on Saturday, 14 March 2020

"Toilet paper remains limited to 1 pack per customer. There may also be additional limits on certain items in each store, please visit your local Coles for more information," Coles said on its website.

"We will also be temporarily suspending our change-of-mind policy to discourage over-purchasing."

Woolworths took a more restrictive stance, limiting rice, paper towel, serviette and wipes purchases to one per shop per customer.

However, when it comes to dry pasta, flour, tissues and hand sanitiser, customers will be able to buy two at a time.

Woolworths has temporarily hit pause on its ‘Pick Up’ service. Picture Woolworths website
Woolworths has temporarily hit pause on its ‘Pick Up’ service. Picture Woolworths website

"We have temporarily paused our online 'Pick up' and 'Delivery Now' services due to temporary shortages on a number of items and to allow our teams to focus on serving customers in-store," the Woolworths website read.

"These new additions will help ensure more of our customers have access to essential goods in the face of unprecedented demand for certain products.

"Woolworths encourages customers to continue purchasing only what they need."





Customers booked on Qantas and Jetstar flights will be able to cancel their bookings in exchange for travel credit in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

Qantas Group on Sunday announced customers with new and existing bookings on domestic and international flights would be given the option to cancel and receive travel credit.


Qantas has cut almost a quarter of its international capacity for the next six months. Picture: Getty
Qantas has cut almost a quarter of its international capacity for the next six months. Picture: Getty


"Qantas and Jetstar have introduced greater flexibility for customers wishing to change their travel plans, following increased travel restrictions being implemented by various governments around the world due to the evolving coronavirus situation," Qantas Group said in a statement.

The changes are available for Qantas, Jetstar and QantasLink flights and apply until March 31 for travel until May 31.



Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned of the heavy financial penalty that awaits any person who arrives from overseas and does not self-isolate.

From midnight all people coming to Australia will have to self-isolate for 14 days, while cruise ships will be banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.

Ms Palaszczuk said that laws were in place to deal with those who fail to follow a direction to self-isolate.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: AAP
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Picture: AAP

"In relation to legislation around that … it's under our Public Health Emergency Act," she said.

"That bill was passed in early February and there are penalties for not complying with the notification and that is around $13,000," she said. "We have random police checks to make sure people are compliant with that notice."



America's leading infectious diseases doctor has warned hospitals could run out of intensive care beds and lifesaving respirators as a former treasury secretary said the country was headed for recession.

Urging for a tighter lockdown to stem the infection rate, Dr Anthony Fauci also warned that the widely held belief that young people are unlikely to become very unwell was a falsehood.

"There are going to be people who are young people, who are going to wind up getting seriously ill," said Dr Fauci, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Picture: AP
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Picture: AP

"I would like to see a dramatic diminution of the personal interaction we see in restaurants and bars."

Dr Fauci said the US had 12,700 ventilators in its "stockpile", which would suffice if the outbreak was contained.

But they would not be able to treat sufferers under a "worst case scenario", which would put US doctors in the same position as Italian medicos, who have had to leave older patients, and those with underlying conditions, to die.

"If you don't have enough ventilators, it's obvious people who need it will not be able to get it. That's when you're going to have to make some very tough decisions," he said.

It came as a former treasury secretary warned there was "an 85 per cent, 90 per cent chance … that we are going to have a recession" because the virus had prompted "a real breakdown of the whole mechanism of exchange on which the economy depends".


Professor Larry Summers. Picture: Bloomberg,
Professor Larry Summers. Picture: Bloomberg,

"I am not at all confident that the recession will be a mild one," said Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers.

"It wouldn't surprise me if it was bad as the recession we had in 2008 and 2009.

"Estimates suggest that tens of millions of people are likely to have this illness over the next couple of months … to six months.

"They are likely to have significant periods of being out of work."

It came as airports across America struggled with the influx of passengers flying home, amid tightening travel restrictions announced by US President Donald Trump.


Mr Trump on Saturday closed the border to travellers from the UK and Ireland, days after taking the same action for Europe, with an exception for US citizens that sent many rushing home.

This led to delays of up to eight hours over the weekend to clear customs at Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York airports, with many posting photos to social media of throngs of passengers crowded into queues.

Meanwhile, Dr Fauci says he's trying to get President Donald Trump to stop shaking hands.

Dr Fauci said that he's "working on" getting Trump to greet people he meets with elbow bumps instead of handshakes as the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the globe.



Mr Trump, a self-described germaphobe, avoided handshakes before jumping into politics in 2015. The president said he's now having trouble giving up the instinctive "habit" of shaking hands.

The chief of the World Health Organization, meanwhile, says that even elbow bumps bring people too close together.

Also in the US, long lines and hours long waits for required medical screenings greeted weary travellers returning to some US airports amid coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

The dense crowds at some of the 13 airports where travellers from Europe are being funnelled - among the busiest across the country - formed even as public health officials called for "social distancing" to stem the spread of the pandemic.



New York City's coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in less than a week from 25 to 269 as Mayor Bill de Blasio considers locking down the Big Apple to contain the outbreak.

"Every option is on the table in a crisis," de Blasio said.

"We've never seen anything like this," he said. The city's famous Broadway theatre district has already been closed down.

De Blasio expects the city's coronavirus tally to rise to 1,000 in the next few days.

"It's changing every hour so we're going to constantly make new decisions," de Blasio said about the dynamic public health emergency.

He also called on the Trump Administration to assume a war-time footing.

"We need the federal government to take over the supply chain right now," he said.



Doctors searching for treatments to fight the coronavirus say the answer may be in the blood of recovered patients, according to a report.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University want to use a method known as "convalescent serum," which involves harvesting virus-fighting antibodies from the blood of patients who have already beaten the illness, NBC News reported.


A woman covers her face as she shops at a food market in Tel Aviv, Israel. Picture: AP
A woman covers her face as she shops at a food market in Tel Aviv, Israel. Picture: AP

Dr Arturo Casadevall, chair of the molecular microbiology and immunology department, said the treatment has not been implemented for decades in the US, though blood from survivors was used to treat the Spanish flu, polio and measles.

"I knew the history of what was done in the early 20th century with epidemics," Dr Casadevall said. "They didn't have vaccines then, they didn't have any drugs then - just like the situation we face now."


Meanwhile, health experts in the UK say that new quick home-test coronavirus kits might not be accurate.

Public Health England said that they wouldn't recommend using rapid tests as "it's not known whether a positive or negative result is reliable".

Several manufacturers are looking to try and roll out rapid testing kits for Covid-19 for use in pharmacies or at home in the coming weeks, The Sun reports.

The products look for the virus or test the body's immune system response - and can include plasma samples or a blood prick test.


A coronavirus testing kit. Picture: Getty
A coronavirus testing kit. Picture: Getty

But there is "little information on the accuracy of the tests" at the moment, PHE warned.

They said today: "The current view by PHE is that use of these products is not advised.

"PHE has developed and deployed a test which is being used across a network of 12 labs in addition to tests undertaken by the NHS to increase capacity.

"We do not currently endorse anything else but we will evaluate commercial tests as they are developed."

Up to 2,000 tests are being processed every day, and the "vast majority" take between 24 and 48 hours.



Life in China is returning to normal as the coronavirus outbreak spreads globally, state media reports.

According to Xinhua, 1117 of 1119 closed expressway entrances and exits nationwide has reopened at the weekend, along with 549 blocked national, provincial, country and townships roads.

A majority of the health and quarantine stations - 11,11198 of 12,028 - have been removed as well.

A total of 28 provinces resumed inter-provincial road passenger transport on March 1, and 126 prefecture-level cities and 192 county-level cities resumed ground public transportation operations.

Xinhua reported, of the 41 cities which have opened urban rail transit, 36 cities are operating rail transit normally.

These cities include Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzen.

Up to 78 million migrant workers have returned to work as well.



China's update comes as Australia's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, bans international cruise ships from arriving at the nation's ports for 30 days and introduces a host of social distancing measures.

Travellers to Australia from overseas are also now required to self-isolate for two weeks.

Mr Morrison said the measures were part of the "targeted action phase".

"To help stay ahead of this curve. We will impose a universal compulsory self-isolation requirement on all international arrivals to Australia effective from midnight tonight," he said on Sunday.

"The Australian Government will ban cruise ships from foreign ports from arriving at Australian ports after an initial 30 days and that will go forward on a rolling basis.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly. Picture: Joel Carrett
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly. Picture: Joel Carrett

"The national cabinet also endorsed the advice of the HPPC to further introduce social distancing measures."

Mass gatherings of more than 500 people will be banned, whereas previously the government had only recommended they not take place.

This will occur from Monday but does not apply to schools, workplaces, universities, supermarkets or public transport.

Strict social distancing measures such as staying 1.5m away from people, not shaking hands and limiting close interactions are now also recommended to everyone.

Schools and universities will remain open for the time being, with that being one of the key issues that the new national cabinet will consider when it meets on Tuesday evening.

The cabinet will also consider changes to aged care visitation, the issues facing remote communities further restrictions to gatherings.

Mr Morrison said the government was planning for the coronavirus to have an impact on the country for six months and slowing the rate of transmission was top priority.


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"Slowing the spread, you free up the bed," Mr Morrison said.

"That's what happens when you get this right."

Mr Morrison echoed a comment Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told media early Sunday.

He said Australians who had not recently returned from overseas or been in contact with a coronavirus case can still shake hands, go on public transport or visit the cinema. However, the advice was likely to change.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy added health officials were not suggesting people should stop using public transport at present.

Sunday's meeting came as the number of virus cases rose above 300 in Australia, with the death toll remaining at three.

More than 150,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 5600 deaths.



Health authorities are seeking to make contact with passengers who was on board a flight from the UK with a Qantas flight attendant who has tested positive for the coronavirus.

A Qantas International crew member is in self-isolation after testing positive to COVID-19 after returning from overseas.

The crew member flew from the UK to Australia as a passenger recently and sought medical advice after experiencing mild symptoms.

Qantas said in a statement on Sunday health authorities would make contact with those seating in proximity on the flight as was standard procedure for all confirmed coronavirus notifications.

Qantas said the team member was not symptomatic when operating as crew on any Qantas flights.

The announcement comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Queensland rises to 61, a public health emergency has been declared in South Australia and six locations at the University of Sydney campus are being intensively cleaned after a student was diagnosed with coronavirus.

NSW Health and the university released a joint statement on Sunday confirming a was in hospital "recovering and doing well" after feeling ill and testing positive for COVID-19 on the weekend.

"NSW Health and the University of Sydney have identified around 80 people who were close contacts with the student while on campus, who have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days," the statement said.

"Staff and students are asked to be vigilant for symptoms of COVID-19 which include fever, cough, runny nose or shortness of breath and phone ahead to their GP."

In the past 24 hours, the number of confirmed cases in NSW has jumped by 22, taking the total number of infection people in the state to 134.

On Sunday, SA's total rose by one to 20 confirmed cases; Victoria's rose by eight to 58, with eight having recovered, and Tasmania suspended all cruise ship visits to its ports after the island state recorded its sixth coronavirus case.

In WA, there have been 18 confirmed cases of coronavirus, 5424 negative tests and one death from the virus.



Thousands of Australians will be asked to work from home for the first time this week in what is likely to be the biggest test of the National Broadband Network so far.

But telecommunications industry experts warn some workers would be much better off than others, and called on NBN Co and Government to "flick the switch" on faster speeds for all users during the coronavirus crisis.

Several firms in Australia including Telstra, Dropbox, and Twitter are not only offering the option to work from home but will be mandating it for all employees who can work off-site this week.

On Sunday there were reports Melbourne's Deakin University's online portal was down due to the influx of users.

Telstra spokeswoman Alex Badenoch said the move, which would affect more than 20,000 staff members, was taken as a precaution rather than a reaction to a COVID-19 infection.

A usually very busy Sydney Harbour is now quiet and without tourists. Picture: David Swift
A usually very busy Sydney Harbour is now quiet and without tourists. Picture: David Swift

"This unprecedented situation requires decisive action and it's important we are flexible and ready to adapt to this evolving situation," she said.

"Getting ahead of things now will mean we are prepared should the issue escalate quickly."

University of Melbourne infectious disease epidemiologist Dr Kathryn Snow commended moves to temporarily change the workforce, saying "these types of social distancing measures" had helped stem infections in other countries.

But veteran telecommunications analyst Paul Budde warned having so many people working from home, participating in video teleconferences, and watching lifestreams would put "extra stress" on the NBN in what could be its biggest test.

He predicted NBN fibre-to-the-premise users would fare well but said those using HFC, copper, satellite and fixed wireless NBN connections could suffer from slower speeds due to congestion and downtime.

"Some parts of the network will fare better than others," he said.

"Those people who have been connected to the NBN and have not encountered any problems will have the best chances of maintaining a good quality service.

Empty seats during the Round 6 AFLW match between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle Dockers at Whitten Oval in Melbourne. Picture: Natasha Morello
Empty seats during the Round 6 AFLW match between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle Dockers at Whitten Oval in Melbourne. Picture: Natasha Morello

"Those who have been struggling on fibre-to-the-node networks might see things getting worse if there are significant increases in traffic in their area."

Mr Budde said the flood of new remote workers would also highlight problems with the pricing structure of the NBN, where connections were artificially slowed down depending on how much users were willing to pay, and called on the Morrison Government and NBN Co to deliver faster speeds for the duration of the health emergency.

"In a crisis like this, they should make all the services available at least 50 megabits per second," he said.

"They can do that with the flick of a switch.

"They can make the network more affordable during a crisis situation that might last two or three months. That would also give us an even better test of the network."

A woman arriving at the Brisbane International Airport, wearing a face mask. Picture: Attila Csaszar
A woman arriving at the Brisbane International Airport, wearing a face mask. Picture: Attila Csaszar

Professor Reg Coutts, president of telecommunications body TelSoc, said this week's test of the NBN, as well as new telehealth demands during the coronavirus pandemic, should highlight the need to plan infrastructure upgrades.

"Eventually, the NBN's out-of-date technology will need to be replaced right across the network," he said.

"Given the needs of the medical profession right now, it would make sense for the government to instruct NBN Co to make doctors, health centres, and hospitals its top priority for a technology update."

Mr Budde also warned that having so many employees and students working from home for the first time could also unearth unforeseen problems for business and universities.

"There won't be any time for proper assessments, training and finetuning," he said.

"It will be interesting to see what the fallout of the many mishaps will be once the virus recedes."