COVID-19 Update: COAG will just accept advice

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The federal government moved to now ban mass gatherings, an increasing number of Australian-based companies are instructing their employees to work from home, and now Pfizer's global CEO is calling for an unprecedented joint effort by the industry to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.

Government imposes 'bans' on mass gatherings

On Friday, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which is comprised of the prime minister and state and territory leaders, adopted the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC’s) in relation to mass gatherings.

The AHPPC is an advisory committee comprised of all state and territory Chief Health Officers and chaired by the Australian Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy.

Professor Murphy said the AHPPC advised against mass gatherings of over 500. COAG accepted the advice and actually went further in saying it would simply adopt all AHPPC advice.

According to the communique from Friday's meeting, "COAG further agreed that the AHPPC advice will have the status of COAG advice."

It is remarkable for the country's political leaders to say they will simply adopt a committee's advice without question or scrutiny. 

The nation's sporting codes quickly responded to COAG's communique by announcing plans for matches to proceed without crowds or even not at all. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison followed-up on Sunday after a meeting of the new 'National Cabinet' that includes the state and territory leaders. 

Mr Morrison said the relevant laws would be invoked by federal, state and territory governments to mandate the ban on mass gatherings of over 500. It is unclear whether health minister Greg Hunt will invoke his powers under the Biosecurity Act 2015. The Act grants the health minister significant powers to impose bans or restrict certain behaviours.

The National Cabinet has also agreed to impose restrictions on travel, with all arrivals into Australia required to endure a 14-day self-isolation period.

Bupa updates on preparations in aged care centres

Suzanne Dvorak, the Managing Director of Bupa Villages and Aged Care, said the company maintains "strong existing outbreak prevention measures" but they will be further strengthened with new sign-in processes, hygiene reminders and infection control refresher training for its employees.

All visitors to Bupa care homes will also be required to complete a Health Declaration Form before they can enter their care homes. They must also use hand sanitiser upon entry.

Pfizer offers five-point plans on COVID-19

Pfizer is one of a group of companies working to develop treatments or a vaccine for COVID-19.

"In this troubling time, Pfizer is committed to doing all we can to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Pfizer chairman and CEO, Dr Albert Bourla.

"Many companies, including Pfizer, are working to develop antiviral therapies to help infected patients fight this emerging virus as well as new vaccines to prevent infection and halt the further spread of this disease.

"Pfizer is working to advance our own potential antiviral therapies and is engaged with BioNTech on a potential mRNA coronavirus vaccine. We are committed to work as one team across the industry to harness our scientific expertise, technical skills and manufacturing capabilities to combat this evolving crisis."

Dr Bourla announced a five-point plan starting with 'sharing tools and insights'. He said the company will make the tools it develops available to the wider scientific community on an open-source platform.

The other components of the Pfizer plan include creating a research team focussed exclusively on COVID-19, making its scientific resources available to smaller biotechnology companies, as well was offering its manufacturing capability to any breakthrough.

The company also said it would reach out to US federal agencies to "build a cross-industry rapid response team of scientists, clinicians and technicians able to move into action immediately when future epidemics surface."

FDA approval for Roche diagnostic

The US FDA has granted 'Emergency Use Authorization' to the first commercially developed COVID-19 diagnostic test and it will be made available in Australia, potentially this week.

The agency said it had granted the authorisation of the Roche cobas SARS-CoV-2 within 24 hours of receiving the application.

"This is the first commercially distributed diagnostic test to receive an EUA during the COVID-19 outbreak," said the FDA in a statement.