Medical association wants a date set for borders to reopen

Pressure to bring forward the timetable for reopening Australia’s international borders is gaining momentum in the wake of last week’s Federal Budget, which signalled that they would likely remain closed until the middle of next year.

While the business lobby was predictably upset because of the financial implications, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) joined the calls this week, suggesting that setting a firm date for reopening would help the country’s vaccination efforts.

AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid told the ABC on Wednesday that he would prefer a target of reopening the borders by the end of this year.

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“I do support setting a time because that’s going to give us all the motivation to go out and get that vaccine,” Dr Khorshid said.

“If it’s some indeterminate point in the future when everyone’s vaccinated, it really doesn’t give that vaccination program the push it needs to make sure it’s complete.

“If we can get those borders open by the end of the year, I think that would be a fantastic target and a good reason for us all to go and do the right thing.”

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Dr Khorshid explained that Australia’s success in staying relatively COVID-19 free was part of the problem when it came to attitudes towards vaccination.

“We are becoming complacent, and people are thinking, ‘well, I don’t really need to get vaccinated because there’s no COVID here’,” Dr Khorshid said. “COVID is coming to Australia. It has to come.

“Now, whether it’s through a breach of our quarantine or because we open the borders, it is coming.

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“I think a conversation around the parameters that we’re going to be setting when the borders are going to open will help motivate Australians to say, ‘yup, I’m going to go and get myself vaccinated because this virus is coming into Australia’, be it at the end of this year or halfway through next year, whenever it is.”

The AMA president also explained that Australia needed to be much better prepared for when international borders were reopened, especially with regards to its quarantine system.

“Australia cannot rely indefinitely on emergency hotel quarantine arrangements,” Dr Khorshid said.

“Over time, Australia must aim to reduce its reliance on hotel quarantine, which was an emergency measure, and transition to new arrangements where quarantine requirements are based on a risk-based approach, including the level and sophistication of designated facilities.  

“Our health system, particularly our public hospitals, are operating beyond capacity and appear ill-equipped to deal with any surge in demand resulting from any community spread of COVID-19.   

“We need to prepare our health system.”

The AMA is calling on national cabinet to further strengthen hotel quarantine and 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.

It is also calling for the approval of any existing proposals for dedicated quarantine facilities to be fast tracked and the establishment of longer-term dedicated quarantine facilities to manage COVID-19 risks.   

” The biggest issue that we have, and the one I’m most worried about, is actually our capacity to look after people who get sick,” Dr Khorshid explained. “There will be some people who get sick, whether they haven’t had the vaccine or they haven’t had a great response to the vaccine, and they get sick and they turn up to our hospitals.

“And it’s the hospital system that’s already completely full, bursting at the seams with ambulances parked outside, in a circumstance where we have no flu and no COVID.

“Now, when we open those borders, we’re going to get both of those viruses. We’re going to get the flu; we’re going to get the new flu. We haven’t had a flu season for a couple of years and we’re going to get a bad flu season.

“Plus, we’ll get a certain number of people who get sick from COVID. And we’ve got to make sure our system is ready to cope with that and our public understand that this is part of our pathway towards getting back to normal.”

When would you like to see international borders reopen? Do you think the government should set an ambitious date to encourage everyone to get vaccinated? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Written by Ben