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AMA President Slams 'Inconsistent' Messaging Surrounding Coronavirus

Australia's peak medical body has called on the country's governments to provide uniform information on the coronavirus, warning 'inconsistent' messaging is fuelling hysteria and 'unexplained panic'. 

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Australian Medical Association (AMA) President Dr Tony Bartone said it is clear the message from the federal government and the states has been inconsistent.

"We have an official online advisory site that is supposed to guide but clearly there have been times where various states and territories have had different messaging to their communities," he told reporters on Sunday.

"We have to start acting as one if we're to deal with this threat of COVID-19 and assure that we have not only the briefs of truth online, but that we are singing from the same song sheet."

Federal AMA President Dr Tony Bartone (left) and AMA Victoria President Professor Julian Rait speak to the media on the latest coronavirus developments. Image: AAP

It follows the Victorian health minister's comments on Saturday that she was flabbergasted a doctor -- who later tested positive to COVID-19 -- continued to treat patients.

Chris Higgins is a doctor at The Toorak Clinic in Melbourne. He is believed to have contracted COVID-19 in the US. He showed symptoms while returning to Melbourne via San Francisco on February 29.

The doctor treated more than 70 patients while ill, prompting concern for his patients, authorities confirmed on Saturday. He is currently in isolation, and his patients and staff are required to self-isolate.

"I'm absolutely flabbergasted that a doctor who has experienced flu-like symptoms has presented to work," Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said on Saturday.

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In a post on Facebook, Mikakos asked that "if you experience any symptoms, please take it seriously."

Higgins himself soon commented on the post, saying he was "upset about the inaccuracies and unfairness of your comments."

"This is not the story that I told the [Department of Health and Human Services] whose job it is to relay information to you," Higgins wrote.

"I had a mild cold when I returned from the USA last Saturday morning which had almost resolved itself by Monday morning, hence my decision to return to work. I hesitated to do a swab because I did not fulfil your criteria for testing but did one anyway on Thursday evening for sake of completeness, not imagining for one moment it would turn out to be positive."

World Health Organisation graphic showing symptoms of Covid-19. Image: AAP

On Sunday, Bartone said Higgins had acted within the guidelines and medical advice from authorities.

"[Higgins] did make an informed decision, made a decision in a good faith to attend work and it was really quite unhelpful what the Minister said yesterday," he said, adding an apology to Higgins would be appropriate.

Federal AMA President Dr Tony Bartone (left) and AMA Victoria President Professor Julian Rait speak to the media on the latest coronavirus developments. Image: AAP

Bartone said Mikakos' comments could undermine the community's faith in GPs.

"If all Victorian GPs and professional stay away to having a runny nose, for example, as a minister indicated, what kind of impact with that have on our health system?" he said.

Instead of apologising, Mikakos on Sunday said everyone has a role to play to prevent the spread of the virus.

"All workers in the healthcare system do an incredible job caring for Victorians and we understand the pressure they can feel to turn up to work when they are feeling unwell," she said in a statement.

"But let me be very clear: these are exceptional circumstances. We are still in the containment phase of what will likely be a pandemic. So to protect the public and healthcare workers, we can't take any chances.

"And all of us have a responsibility to do what we can to prevent the spread of this virus."

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Bartone said governments agreed at a roundtable last Friday that scaling up the country's frontline response was a priority. That included teleconferencing for GP consultations that would best utilise scarce resources.

"It will reduce the load on emergency departments and hospitals," he said.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said telehealth services were being designed now and could be delivered by the end of the week.

The government has also secured an extra 54 million face masks for national medical stockpiles, expected to arrive by the end of April.

Australia has more than 70 confirmed cases of COVID-19. A man in his 80s became the country's third coronavirus death, passing away in Sydney overnight.

Meanwhile, four more Australians have been caught up in another cruise ship coronavirus emergency off the coast of California.

Travel bans are still in place for arrivals from South Korea, China and Iran while those flying in from Italy will undergo advanced screening.

With AAP.