News COVID latest: Hospitals under pressure, fears for Indigenous communities
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COVID latest: Hospitals under pressure, fears for Indigenous communities

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Doctors, nurses and paramedics are under increasing pressure as more staff – including from a Victorian IVF ultrasound clinic newly named as an exposure site – will have to isolate after patients tested positive.

Many healthcare workers are already experiencing burnout in year two of the pandemic and those in New South Wales are bracing for an even greater surge in patients by October.

The NSW Premier is insisting hospitals will cope but, as Michael Pascoe wrote on Monday, people on the frontline have told a very different story. 

Meanwhile, a leading health expert says there won’t be a great decline in the number of people being hospitalised for COVID-19 until there is a higher vaccination rate for over-40s.

“Once we get the 40 years and over vaccinated fully, then we’ll start to see that great decline in hospitalisation,” epidemiologist Mary Louise McLaws told the ABC.

People aged over 40 represent about two-thirds of COVID-19 patients in hospital.

Official figures show 67.4 per cent of over-40s across the country have received a first dose and 44.7 per cent have received their two doses.

Professor McLaws said one dose gave a person 75 per cent protection in terms of likely hospitalisation, while that rises to the mid-90s after a second dose.

October is expected to be the worst month for hospitalisations in the hardest-hit state of NSW, where 1290 cases were recorded on Monday.

Four deaths took the national toll to 1003 since the start of the pandemic.

Australia has fully vaccinated 34.41 per cent of its population aged 16 and over, while almost 55 per cent have received one jab.

There are growing calls for better protection of Indigenous communities after a New South Wales man became the first Aboriginal person to die of COVID-19.

Just 6.3 per cent of Indigenous people are fully vaccinated in western NSW coronavirus hotspots, compared with 26 per cent of the general population.

More workplaces are considering so-called “no jab, no work” policies including Qantas, Virgin Australia and now mining giant BHP which announced its plans on Monday night. 

Read on to stay informed on all the latest lockdown news. Then go get vaccinated, if you can.

  • Waiting in line for your appointment? Click here to read our story on doppelgängers, for something much lighter.

Victoria

Victorians are still waiting to find out how long their lockdown will be extended. The ABC reports that easing regional restrictions is among the options being considered.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the idea of having different rules for different local government areas in greater Melbourne also wasn’t “off the table”.

In good news, Victorian health authorities are hopeful the state’s COVID-19 outbreak has stabilised. But there are concerns about the number of people with the Delta strain becoming so ill they need hospital care.

There were 49 coronavirus cases in Victorian hospitals on Monday – up five from the previous day – with 15 in intensive care and 11 on ventilators.

Goulburn Valley Health chief executive Matt Sharp said at least six people from the Shepparton outbreak had been transferred to Melbourne, as it continues to care for four other infected patients.

“The Delta variant of the coronavirus is a really nasty virus,” he said.

“We’re seeing people come into our emergency department that are critically unwell. Somewhat surprisingly their conditions at home are deteriorating really quickly.”

Although all 99 cases in the region are currently linked, Mr Sharp stopped short of declaring the outbreak was fully contained after tallying a further nine infections on Monday.

“The only way we’ll get this under control is to have a number of consecutive zero days,” he said.

With 73 new cases in total reported on Monday, Professor Sutton said the state’s number of cumulative days with 50 infections or more was “relatively flat compared to how it took off in NSW”.

“We are hoping to see a trend, and maybe it’s stabilising over the last few days,” he said.

Health Minister Martin Foley similarly hoped the outbreak had “plateaued” and said there was “every indication” the public health rules were starting to work, despite at least 49 new cases spending time in the community while infectious.

There are now more than 970 exposure sites across the state, including a ward at Dandenong Hospital, a school in Melbourne’s north and a Shepparton hairdresser.

A legal firm in Kilsyth is among the new New Tier 1 sites named late on Monday night as is the Monash Ultrasound for Women clinic in Mulgrave.

Women who were at the Monash IVF Group’s Mulgrave clinic last Tuesday may have been exposed to the virus. Isolate and get tested. Photo: Getty

Tier 2 venues include apartment blocks in Brunswick and Cairnlea, a construction site in Port Melbourne and Metro train services.

  • Click here for the full list of Victorian exposure sites

New South Wales

A Dubbo man has become the first Aboriginal person in Australia to die from COVID-19, prompting an urgent plea for Indigenous communities in western NSW to get vaccinated.

A record 1290 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases were detected in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, and another four deaths recorded.

Two men in their 70s, a woman in her 60s and the 50-year-old Aboriginal man from Dubbo take the death toll from the current outbreak to 93.

A lawyer who was a prominent member of Sydney’s South Sudanese community is among the latest young people to die suddenly after testing positive.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that father-of-four William Orule, aged in his 30s, died alone in his western Sydney home late on August 20.

Speaking about the death of the Dubbo man who was not vaccinated, Western NSW Local Health District chief executive Scott McLachlan said the tragedy was a stark reminder to the community.

“This opportunity to get vaccinated is a lifesaver,” he told reporters.

“It will save you, it will save your family, it will save your friends.

“The last thing we want to see is more deaths in western NSW.”

Labor frontbencher and indigenous MP Linda Burney said the man’s death could have been prevented, blaming the Morrison government’s slow vaccine rollout.

“We know that the federal government was warned back in March 2020 that this was going to be the outcome if they did not step in,” she said.

While there has been a jump in the number of jabs administered to the region’s Indigenous residents – with the number almost doubling in the past three weeks – the rate still lags significantly behind the region’s broader population.

Just 6.3 per cent of Indigenous people in the area are fully vaccinated, compared with 26 per cent of the general population.

The majority of cases – 65 per cent – have been diagnosed among people of Aboriginal descent.

It comes as health authorities warn October is likely to be the worst month for the state’s health system due to the accumulation of infections from preceding weeks.

Currently, the number of COVID-19 patients in NSW hospitals nears 850, with 137 patients in intensive care and 48 ventilated.

While NSW has a surge capacity of about 2000 intensive care beds and an equivalent number of ventilators, unions are concerned the quality of patient care in such a scenario would be greatly diluted.

Patient data obtained by Nine newspapers showed Westmead Hospital was among three with more than 100 COVID patients in recent days. Photo: AAP

Ms Berejiklian said the rate of hospitalisations per infection would continue to fall as more NSW residents are vaccinated, but the overall number of hospitalisations was likely to rise as infections increase.

“Every day we get closer to hitting those vaccination targets, meaning the pressure on our hospital system, on our ICU will decline over time, and that is what we need to manage,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We are going to see more cases, but if the majority of the population is vaccinated, the majority of those cases will not need to be in hospital.

“The health system is prepared, but will it stretch? Absolutely.”

Data obtained by the Sydney Morninig Herald shows that Westmead, Liverpool and Nepean hospitals are carrying the heaviest load, with about 320 patients in wards or ICU as of Friday.

Hospital staff told the Herald a separate non-COVID ICU is being prepared but it has not opened yet also due to a lack of staff.

ACT

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is set to announce whether Canberra’s lockdown will be extended again as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.

Another 12 cases were reported on Monday, half of them unlinked and at least six of which were in the community while infectious.

Mr Barr hit back at federal warnings of cutting financial support should states and territories keep locking down once Australia hits vaccination thresholds of between 70 and 80 per cent.

“Let’s stop talking about 70 because it’s not safe at 70,” the chief minister told reporters.

“But 80 is the more realistic step. So, 70 will be a gentle step forward, 80 would be a more significant one.”

He said a 70 per cent vaccination threshold equated to around 56 per cent of the nation if under-16s were counted.

The chief minister hoped the ACT would be at 90 or even 95 per cent vaccination coverage by the time the national double-dose rate for over-16s reached 80 per cent.

He foreshadowed announcing on Tuesday whether to extend Canberra’s lockdown due to end in two days.

It was originally slated to run for seven days, before being stretched out for two more weeks.

“We do not want all of the hard work over the last few weeks to go to waste by opening up too early,” Mr Barr said.

Of Canberra’s 236 active cases, 12 are in hospital including three in intensive care.

All but one of the hospital patients are unvaccinated. Another has received a single dose.

Federal parliament is sitting in Canberra under strict health rules but will rise on Thursday evening ahead of a six-week break.

-with AAP