National cabinet will discuss the capacity of Australia’s health system to handle the Omicron wave as exhausted nurses prepare to protest to voice their “despair”.
Federal, state and territory leaders will be updated on Thursday on how hospitals are coping as well as the vaccine rollout and ongoing supply chain issues.
It comes as ICU nurses on the front line of the pandemic are threatening to quit in droves and as nurses and midwives at Liverpool Hospital in western Sydney plan to protest on Thursday morning.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association said six out of 10 NSW ICU nurses in a recent survey said they had “no intent of sticking around” once the Omicron outbreak subsides.
“There are members who are telling us that they will get through this crisis, and then that’s it,” acting assistant general secretary Michael Whaites said.
“There are a lot of them saying, ‘Three to five years, tops’. They can’t see themselves giving anything more than that.”
Mr Whaites said nurses “desperately need” the government to commit to improving staff-to-patient ratios.
“At the moment staffing is based on a calculation that goes over the week, and we know it’s not working.”
Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Friday that NSW Health modelling showed the state’s hospitals had capacity and were still faring better than the envisioned “best-case scenario” based on outbreaks in London and South Africa.
Mr Whaites said that did not match the reality of what staff in the hospitals were enduring.
“If he was thankful for the work that nurses and midwives are doing in this state at the moment, he would sit down with them and say, ‘We will introduce safer staffing across the system … have faith, stick with us, things will be better in the future’.
“But there’s no actions. There’s just words and our members are increasingly frustrated by it.”
Mr Whaites said he was not sure how many nurses and midwives at Liverpool Hospital would join Thursday morning’s protest.
Supply chain problems
Also on national cabinet’s agenda will be an update on issues along the supply chain caused by workers having to isolate.
The ABC reports that retailers are calling on exemptions to isolation rules to be expanded to include all retail workers, warehousing and distributions centres.
The Australian Retailers Association also wants access for these employees to free rapid antigen testing.
“We are seeing some green shoots of improvement, however, we haven’t passed the current supply chain predicament,” chief executive Paul Zahra told the ABC.
“We all have to learn to live with COVID, and I think if you can certainly expand the isolation exemptions for certain groups, then it does make sense to expand that further to other categories of retail — particularly given the important part that they play in the community, but also getting often-essential products to customers.”
Meanwhile Australia recorded 87 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday alongside more than 50,000 cumulative new infections.
Slightly more than 93 per cent of Australians aged 16-plus are double-dosed, while only about 75 per cent of Indigenous people aged 16 and older have had two doses.
Victoria recorded 35 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday in the state’s deadliest day since the second virus wave in 2020 and another 13,507 new cases.
In South Australia, 13 people died as that state recorded 2401 new infections.
NSW reported 29 new deaths and 21,030 additional infections, while nine more people died, and another 13,551 were infected, in Queensland.
The ACT reported 896 new case, the Northern Territory 492 and Western Australia 24.
Worldwide there were 21 million new coronavirus cases reported last week, the highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases recorded since the pandemic began.
But the number of deaths was largely unchanged, at more than 50,000.
The World Health Organisation said the rate of increase appeared to be slowing; only half of regions reported an increase in COVID-19.
The biggest increase in cases was in the Middle East, with a 39 per cent rise, followed by a 36 per cent jump in Southeast Asia.
Deaths increased in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and the Americas, but fell in other regions.