Victoria quarantined in 1919 influenza epidemic


SCHOOLS NOT TO OPEN

Yesterday Victoria followed the lead of New South Wales and declared itself an infected State, and was duly quarantined by the Federal authorities. The chief result of this development, and the precautionary measures decided upon by the Victorian Government, as follow:

New South Wales and Victoria, being both infected States, become one quarantine area, and railway and sea traffic between Melbourne and Sydney is now permissible in the ordinary way.

All theatres, picture theatres, music and concert halls, and all public buildings exclusive of churches, where persons assemble for entertainment or instruction in the Melbourne metropolitan area, are to be closed forthwith. (Theatres closed last night).

All public schools (State, denominational and private) are to remain closed until otherwise directed.

Nursing staff with patients outside of the Melbourne Exhibition Building.

Nursing staff with patients outside of the Melbourne Exhibition Building. Credit:Museums Victoria

The decision to declare Victoria an infected State was not unexpected. The action of New South Wales in declaring itself an infected State with such promptitude, and more particularly in declaring that the condition of its patients was due to contact with Melbourne cases, forced Victoria’s hand to some extent. Further clinical investigations, together with post-mortem examinations made yesterday, led the clinical committee to the opinion that the influenza germ prevalent in Victoria was increasing in pneumonic virulence, and that it was desirable, considering the circumstances, to take all necessary precautionary measures. The Government was advised accordingly, and the Federal authorities, at the invitation of the Government, quarantined Victoria.

The position, however, from a health point of view remains pretty much as it was on the previous day. Yesterday 99 cases were reported to the Board of Health, and 2 deaths. Altogether 399 cases have been notified to the board, and 23 deaths, the mortality of the notified cases thus being 5.7 per cent. As notification became compulsory only on the 24th, it is possible that there are other earlier cases unnotified, but the mortality percentage would probably be the same.

Arrival at quarantine camp in Wallangara.

Arrival at quarantine camp in Wallangara.Credit:State Library of Victoria

Broadly, the health authorities take up the attitude that whilst there is no cause for alarm – the mortality being comparatively low – it is desirable that all precautions should be taken to prevent the spread of infection. The dry, fine weather, it is recognized, is particularly favorable for resisting the disease, and the precautions adopted now will render the task of defence easier should the Spanish Influenza, in its more dreaded South African form, secure a hold in this country.

Following on the quarantining of Victoria by the Federal authorities, it was necessary for the State Minister of Health to issue a proclamation to bring into effect the agreement reached at the November conference. The need to be covered by this proclamation was the chief subject of discussion at the meeting of the Cabinet yesterday afternoon. It was decided that for the present the restrictions on the assembling of large numbers of persons in building should be confined to the metropolitan area.

In Sydney, face masks were made compulsory in public places.

In Sydney, face masks were made compulsory in public places. Credit:From Australia: A History In Photographs by Michael Cannon

The proclamation issued last night ordered that “all theatres, picture theatres, music or concert halls, and all public buildings where persons assemble for the purposes of entertainment or instruction, shall be closed forthwith, and not again used until permission is given by a notice in the ‘Government Gazette’. In detailing the action of the Ministry, the Premier said that, should it be necessary to apply the restrictions to other part of Victoria than the metropolitan area, that would be done immediately by the Minister of Health.

The proclamation does not include churches. Mr. Lawson said a decision regarding churches and Sunday schools would be reached before Sunday. He expressed the view that there would be a disinclination on the part of churchgoers to attend services in view of possible danger, but the relation of the restrictions to churches would be definitely settled during the next few days. Whether race meetings and other forms of outdoor entertainment shall come under the ban is another point that is engaging the attention of the Ministry. For the present, however, they are free of any embargo.

In ordinary circumstances State schools would resume on Monday next, but owing to the epidemic they will remain closed in the metropolitan area. Mr Lawson said the schools would be kept closed as long as there is considered to be any danger of infection, and, of course, restrictions imposed on schools under the control of the State would apply equally to other schools and colleges. It has not yet been decided whether country schools shall be kept closed.

The quarantine regulations passed by the Federal authorities in connection with Victoria place this State on the same footing as New South Wales. Thus the two States now form, for Commonwealth purposes, one quarantine area, out of which rail traffic is not permitted to Queensland or South Australia; sea traffic from Victoria and New South Wales to other States in the Commonwealth is also subject to strict quarantine conditions.

The Commonwealth authorities have arranged for the presence of the necessary quarantine offices on the borders of quarantined States, and should the necessity arise the Minister of Customs has arranged that the defence authorities shall supply military medical staffs and equipment to aid the States, if the latter request help.

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Now that Victoria and New South Wales have been declared infected with pneumonic influenza, the question has been raised as to whether the quarantine restrictions are still to apply to vessels from overseas. The Director of Quarantine stated yesterday that rigid quarantine would still be carried out, where necessary, in the case of such ships, exactly as in the past. It was not yet certain that the disease in Australia was identical with the pneumonic influenza abroad. In any case, there was point in adding fresh infection in Australia when it could be avoided.

Melbourne Hospital

In view of the increasing hold which the epidemic is gaining on the community, and in view of the importance of preventing the spread of infection from outside sources as far as possible, it has been decided by Melbourne Hospital authorities to forbid visitors to the wards for the present. The only exceptions are close relatives of patients dangerously ill, and these are expected to provide themselves with gauze masks and to wear these while inside the hospital. Otherwise they will be refused entrance. As an additional precautionary measure, all patients in the hospital are to be compulsorily inoculated against the disease.

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Yesterday, reports the superintendent (Dr. Meekin) up to 8pm 43 cases, nearly all seriously ill, were examined at Melbourne Hospital, and of these six were admitted. There was one death. On account of lack of accommodation at the hospital seriously ill people are kept waiting on couches for hours, and this prejudices their chances of recovery. The best possible course to pursue in treatment is for patients on the first appearance of symptoms to go to bed and send for a medical man.

Helpers Required

Red Cross V.A.D’s are once more requested to offer their services immediately to assist in the hospitals during the occurrence of influenza cases. Other women desiring to help are also asked to enroll.

Members of the Volunteer Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps are requested to attend a meeting at the Independent Hall Collins-street, this evening, at 8 o’clock, to decide what course the corps will adopt to assist in view of the influenza outbreak becoming serious. All women who are interested are invited to attend. Orderlies are required for the hospitals.

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