THE total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Hunter rose to 72 on Tuesday, as Hunter New England Health postpones non-urgent surgeries to prepare for an expected surge in cases.
Hunter New England Health has announced it will postpone non-urgent elective surgeries to allow for staff training and provide more capacity to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Paul Craven, the district's medical controller for COVID-19, said these measures would also protect staff on the frontline who would be crucial to the care of coronavirus patients as cases rise.
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"Postponing surgeries will be done in a staged way so we balance crucial staff preparedness with acting in the best interests of patients who are waiting for important surgery," Dr Craven said.
"The postponements will be based on clinical advice and an assessment of each persons case.
"This is part of our pandemic plan and is an example of how we are ensuring our facilities are prepared for COVID-19."
Previously, the District had postponed elective surgery for those who had returned from overseas.
"Now its necessary to extend this to other non-urgent surgery," he said.
"All patients will retain their place on the waitlist and will be contacted to reschedule at a later date. Emergency surgery will of course continue.
"We will work with affected patients to ensure they get the care they need while they await their surgery.
"We know some people will naturally be disappointed, but we ask the community for their understanding during this difficult time."
Hunter New England Health would also review its outpatient clinics across the district, and would use telehealth services where possible to conduct appointments remotely.
"Urgent appointments will still continue and these patients will still receive care. Any non- urgent appointments that cannot be done remotely by telehealth will be postponed to a later date."
NSW Health announced an additional 136 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday morning, bringing the total number in NSW to 669.
Chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said there had been seven deaths in Australia.
"One of the lowest death rates in the world," he said.
But the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia continued to rise. The number of confirmed cases in Australia has now pushed past 1600, and there have been more than 135,000 people tested across the country.
"We are now in a different world. This world could last for some time," Professor Murphy said.
"This is a new world of social distancing. A new way of us interacting with each other all of the time."
Professor Murphy called on people to "come down hard" on friends and acquaintances who failed to obey quarantine rules after returning from overseas.
He said the best way to protect our society from this pandemic was to "significantly slow" the spread of COVID-19.
"We need to stop, and slow, and control community transmissions," Professor Murphy said.
"This is serious business now.
"You are putting the vulnerable people in the community at risk if you don't knuckle down.
"This is a long haul. We have all got to do it."
This report was updated on Tuesday, March 23, to reflect the most recent increase in case numbers as of 2pm that day. For our most recent reporting on case numbers and the impact of the virus on Newcastle and the Hunter, you can follow our rolling coverage.