AMA warns COVID is coming and we’re not ready

The Australian Medical Association (AMA) believes Australia is ill-prepared for a return of COVID-19.

And president Dr Omar Khorshid warns COVID “is coming”.

“COVID-19 is going to continue to come to Australia,” he says. “Whether it’s through a breach of our quarantine or because we open the borders, it is coming.”

He says too many Australians assume that because vaccinations have begun, there is little risk of a serious outbreak.

“There is no way for Australia to avoid COVID unless we close ourselves off forever.

“But that’s not going to be acceptable. So COVID will come, because there is just no way to eradicate this virus from the entire globe. There’s such vaccine inequity that we’re going to have virus hotspots, with huge amounts of devastating COVID for a long period of time.

“And we are going to have to manage that risk with open borders through mechanisms such as vaccination, quarantine and a boosted health system, which is going to have to learn to manage people with COVID.”

Read more: How to counter vaccine side-effects

The Guardian says analysis published in the Medical Journal of Australia has found our governments have not created public triage protocols and “political courage” is needed to plan for the worst.

“Australia’s lack of clear triage protocols more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic means clinicians will struggle to decide which patients to save and how to treat them should the virus return.

“Prioritising some individuals over others when the demand for resources exceeds supply is confronting for clinicians and the community alike and challenges us to reflect on our deeply held values as a society.”

The ABC’s Australia Talks National Survey found 79 per cent of Australians say the international border should stay shut until the pandemic is under control globally.

Read more: COVID surge in world’s most vaccinated country

Virgin business mogul Richard Branson says Australia will be held back unless more people are vaccinated, and borders can open.

“By now – it’s a small country – I suspect most people should have been vaccinated,” he told Channel Nine.

“If not, it should be the number one priority of government. Nothing else matters more, to be honest.

“Because every single business in Australia will be held back. Every single person in Australia will be held back.

“If the government can speed up the vaccination program so everyone is vaccinated, then there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t be able to get opened up,” he said.

The federal government’s latest estimate is that the international border will not reopen until mid-2022.

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On 20 May, the AMA federal council released a communique calling on National Cabinet to “adopt interim steps to strengthen hotel quarantine and to establish long-term dedicated quarantine facilities to manage the ongoing risks of COVID-19”.

Dr Khorshid said that although many Australians would be vaccinated, new variants combined with possible waning immunity over time meant Australians could not expect there would never be outbreaks.

“From time to time it will happen, because once the virus comes into our community, there’s going to be people who haven’t been vaccinated or who haven’t had an immune response to the vaccine,” he said.

“So, we need to be able to have a health system able to manage the extra burden of disease that will come with COVID.”

Earlier this week, Victoria’s chief health officer, Professor Brett Sutton, addressing the first cases of community transmission in three months in that state, said: “We never know what’s around the corner … We should never be complacent.”

He said several countries had gone from zero cases to thousands and the onset of winter assisted the spread of the virus.

“The risk will be ongoing …” he said.

The AMA called on National Cabinet to commit to:

  • the national adoption of best practice measures, as an interim step, to further strengthen hotel quarantine including improved ventilation, strengthened personal protective equipment and completion of vaccinations
  • undertake an urgent stocktake of existing facilities (outside of hotel quarantine) that could be repurposed and used to quarantine incoming arrivals, particularly those from higher risk countries or those who are repatriated as part of an emergency response
  • put in place arrangements to fast track the approval of any existing proposals for dedicated quarantine facilities for COVID-19 that are assessed as being suitable
  • agree to the establishment of longer-term dedicated quarantine facilities to manage the risks of COVID-19, backed by a comprehensive National Partnership Agreement that assigns operational and funding responsibilities between various levels of governments
  • improving the capacity of the Australian health system to keep up with ongoing growth in demand for services, particularly in our public hospitals, while also ensuring that there is sufficient surge capacity available to deal with future community outbreaks.

Are Australians complacent about COVID-19? Do you think we will experience another serious COVID outbreak?

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Written by Will Brodie

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