Covid-19 Victoria: Concern growing cases will place strain on health system

A raft of restrictions will ease from Friday in Victoria, but questions have been raised about one concerning issue.

Victoria is bracing to open up further within days, but the new-found freedoms expected on Friday have raised questions about how the state’s hospital system will manage.

With the state set to reach its 80 per cent double-dose vaccination targets, Melbourne will finally come into line with regional Victoria, enjoying no restrictions on travel, no masks required outdoors, bigger outdoor gatherings, hospitality expanding and entertainment and retail to resume.

Despite vaccination rates rising, authorities have repeatedly warned cases will rise along with hospitalisations as the state opens up, placing pressure on the healthcare system.

“Nobody wants to be in intensive care,” Alfred Hospital intensive care unit director Associate Professor Steve McGloughlin told ABC News.

“It is a tough thing to go through for anyone, as much as we try to make it as dignified and caring as possible.

“People that get this disease, it can be pretty brutal. You don’t want to get it.”

He said some patients had been in ICU for as many as 100 days while the pandemic played out.

“Once you are critically ill, your vital organs are being looked after by machines, you have a nurse at your bedside the whole time and it is quite extreme – you can’t imagine how terrifying that is as a patient,” he said.

“Caring for people during that time has been a really challenging thing for our staff, (but) we are constantly amazed by the bravery and robustness of patients that they are able to go through all of this.”

Victorian ICU wards have been flooded with patients in recent months as the Delta variant tears through homes and communities.

There is now a limited number of trained staff who can look after patients, with the problem spanning all corners of the state.

Melbourne’s Alfred Health normally has 46 ICU patients but is taking care of 60 people with the virus following a spike in case numbers.

“While we have good infrastructure and beds it is really tough for the staff and the work that staff have to do to look after those patients,” Dr McGloughlin said.

“I think we have great faith in our public health clinics and the work they are doing, but in Victoria at the moment there are about 150 patients in ICU that are infectious and another 40 or 50 patients that are no longer infectious – that is about half the ICU beds.

“That ever being sustained is a real problem for the health system.

“We hope that vaccination will bring those numbers down and we can control this, but my job and the job of my colleagues is to plan for the worst.”

Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton issued a stark warning for people to get vaccinated, saying “everyone will be exposed to the virus”.

Professor Sutton said following Covid protocols such as mask wearing, checking in and physical distancing would be crucial in the coming months as more people enjoyed social outings.

“As we start to reopen, there will be more Covid in the community really than at any other point in time,” he said.

“Many of those people will have mild illness because they‘re fully vaccinated.

“Many of those settings will have fully vaccinated people, but recognising that children will also be in those places and some exempt individuals will be in those places and that getting vaccinated doesn’t mean that you’re absolutely guaranteed not to get the virus.”

Originally published as Covid-19 Victoria: Concern growing cases will place strain on health system

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