BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge said he felt fine as he returned from high-level talks in Rome last week.
He said he was ready to enter self-imposed quarantine if needed, after two weeks in Rome and travelling in Italy, as the country deals with Europe’s largest outbreak of coronavirus.
He said talks as president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference had made his visit unavoidable, despite a surge in the number of COVID-19 deaths.
“I’ve been fine and have carried on as normal, except for being careful to wash my hands thoroughly,” Archbishop Coleridge said from his lodgings at Casa Romana del Clero.
“I suppose I could don a mask, though the shops have sold out at this stage…not only of masks but also disinfectant hand gel.”
In Rome, Archbishop Coleridge has attended Vatican meetings to discuss the Plenary Council 2020, and the Holy See’s response to Australia’s Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
Cardinal George Pell has also been on the Vatican agenda as lawyers for the prelate prepare for a final High Court appeal set down for March 11 and 12.
Archbishop Coleridge said his Rome visit was necessary, even though many of the rituals of Italian life, including Sunday Mass, were disrupted around him.
“I have to be here; I have to get home … and there’s little I can do to isolate myself completely from the threat,” he said.
“But I’ll do what I can and hope that I arrive back in Brisbane fit and well.”
Several cities and towns in Italy’s north were placed in lockdown, suspending public events and closing attractions, such as museums, to the public, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The measure effectively put an estimated 100,000 people under quarantine.
Elsewhere, soccer stadiums were empty for major matches and regional officials cancelled the public celebration of Mass.
During his trip, Archbishop Coleridge also flew south to Calabria, to visit Fr Domenico Muscari, a former Brisbane priest, now attached to the Diocese of Mileto-Nicotera-Tropea.
Australians urged to follow guidelines amid COVID-19 surge
CORONAVIRUS had transmitted from human-to-human contact in Australia, marking the next stage of the outbreak, as federal health authorities braced for an influx of cases and switched from a mindset of “containment” to “minimisation”.
Two people from Sydney, one a health worker, had contracted the virus without leaving the country; a 20-year-old international student in Brisbane had also tested positive for the disease.
The Brisbane case brought the number of infected in Australia to 30 at the time of publication.
Brisbane archdiocese released a statement in line with Queensland Health guidelines that announced planning in response to the virus was underway for Brisbane Catholic Education, Centacare and Catholic Early EdCare.
The statement outlined preventative measures in line with public health guidelines: frequent hand-washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs; social distancing – one metre distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing; avoiding touching your face; covering mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing; and avoiding contact with anyone with flu-like symptoms.
The Federal Government health guidelines, which were available online, said surgical masks were only useful for people who had already contracted coronavirus to stop it from spreading to others; there was little evidence to suggest wearing masks decreased a healthy person’s risk of infection.
Symptoms of coronavirus included fever, flu-like symptoms and difficulty breathing in some cases.
Last week saw the first Australian, an elderly Perth man, die from COVID-19 after he contracted it while aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored off Japan.
Biosecurity laws were under the spotlight in Federal Parliament early last week and it was revealed Australians who tested positive for COVID-19 could be legally detained.
Wider bans on mass gatherings were also a possibility.
“It’s very likely that Australians will encounter practices and instructions that they’ve not had to encounter before,” Attorney-General Christian Porter told the ABC Radio National.
“They will be in some instances strange and foreign to many Australians but they will become very important, I suspect, over the next couple of months.”
Already strange scenes have been spotted at Woolworths and Coles.
Australian shoppers have taken to social media to express their outrage at empty shelves at supermarkets across the country.
The shoppers posted pictures of shelves where hand-sanitisers and tissues would usually be, and called the panic buying “crazy”.
Health officials have said that panic buying was not necessary.
Instead they advised shoppers to purchase a few extra items each shop to build a “stash” in case quarantining becomes necessary.
Retailers have said there was plenty of stock at distribution centres and there was no cause for alarm.
The only foreseeable issues were about new lines of clothing and shoes when the next season was expected in, but some retailers were already switching manufacturers.
Share markets rebounded at time of publication but had experienced severe and prolonged price drops since the virus was first announced.
The markets flagged a wider economic concern about the impact of trade particularly with China.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Government was looking to pull together a “moderate” stimulus package to help businesses weather the economic fallout of COVID-19.
“The most important thing is the cash flow, particularly of more vulnerable small and medium-sized enterprises,” Mr Morrison said.
Doubt has been cast on other mass events like the Tokyo Olympics 2020 as the United Nations postponed a gender equity event.
The virus had baffled experts in one respect – children were largely unscathed.
The most at-risk groups were the elderly, particularly those over 70 who had other diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or cancer.
For age groups in between, most cases were similar to a mild common cold.
Brisbane archdiocese has been planning for any increase in the coronavirus alert levels.
“We continue to follow the advice of public health authorities particularly in relation to gatherings of people,” a diocesan spokesperson said. “We thank Queensland Health for the flow of information at this time.”