Leaders set to examine hospital capacity

(AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Australia’s hospitals are coming under increased scrutiny amid concern the health system will struggle to cope with rising COVID-19 cases.

Health Department boss Brendan Murphy has asked intensive care experts from around the country to provide advice about the pressures higher caseloads could present.

That will be examined by Prime Minister Scott Morrison along with his state and territory counterparts at Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said emergency departments were full and elective surgery waiting times too long before the pandemic.

“While national cabinet is considering the cost of expanding intensive care capacity for an expected COVID surge, a funding top-up alone won’t cut it,” he said.

Dr Khorshid urged Australia to prepare the health system based on the ability of hospitals to cope with more coronavirus cases before opening up.

A reopening agreement between federal and state governments to gradually ease restrictions at 70 and 80 per cent over-16 vaccine coverage continues to fracture.

Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is under fire from all sides for claiming opening her state’s border would leave unvaccinated children under 12 vulnerable.

Deputy federal Labor leader Richard Marles said states protecting their own interests was understandable but wants health advice to be paramount.

“I would be distancing myself from the comments of Annastacia,” he told the Nine Network,.

“We need to be following the health advice when it comes to the impact and who we should be vaccinating when.”

Wrangling over when borders in Western Australia and Queensland will open to states with the virus continues, but the issue is not addressed in Doherty Institute modelling behind the national plan.

Senior Morrison government minister Simon Birmingham said leaders needed to focus on reopening under high vaccination coverage.

“What they shouldn’t be doing as state leaders is whipping up fear suggesting at that point, it is still not going to work because we have built it on scientific modelling,” he said.

National cabinet will also consider if healthcare workers who were close contacts should still be sidelined when high vaccination coverage is achieved.

There are 184 patients in intensive care nationally, with 160 in NSW, where there were another 1288 new cases on Thursday.

Victoria recorded 176 and the ACT 12.

Six in 10 Australians aged 16 and over have received one jab while 36.4 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Half a million Pfizer doses secured under a swap deal with Singapore arrived in Australia overnight.

Left-leaning think tank the Australia Institute has released a paper questioning the evidence behind politicians agitating for state borders to open.

The institute’s chief economist Richard Denniss said Doherty modellers could not be blamed for failing to anticipate NSW government failures in controlling the outbreak.

“But you can blame politicians and business leaders who are using the Doherty modelling to justify opening interstate travel when the modelling provides no clear evidence that it would be safe to do so,” he said.


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