'MUCH WORSE': PM refutes hospital concerns, touts new phase of pandemic
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed concerns about healthcare systems in Australia not coping with the Omicron wave, saying the country is in a "new phase of the pandemic".
Mr Morrison said nearly two years after the first case of the novel coronavirus was detected in Australia, measures to handle surge capacity are still in place.
"Whether it was the start of the pandemic and the worst we may have feared at that time and getting the ventilators and all of those things, all of those arrangements are still there," he said on Monday morning during an interview with Sunrise.
The PM echoed calls by NSW premier Dominic Perrottet for those infected to only call triple 0 if their symptoms are very severe.
"People only need to be calling that number if you're having a medical emergency," he said.
Reports have shown many Australians are not bothering to get a PCR test, prompting experts to suggest the true Covid caseload in the community is significantly higher than official numbers suggest.
"Do you think the Covid situation in Australia is actually much worse than we even realise given people aren't bothering to even get tested?" Sunrise host Edwina Bartholomew asked the PM.
"I don't think so. I think people are managing their health," Mr Morrison said, again touting the less severe nature of the Omicron strain which is now dominant in the community.
"The majority of cases we are seeing in hospital are people who are unvaccinated. If you want to end up in hospital, the most likely way is not to be vaccinated."
"Having some covid symptoms is not a medical emergency"
Prime Minister @ScottMorrisonMP urges people who test positive only to call an ambulance or head to hospital if they urgently need treatment. pic.twitter.com/1EnNWDWxeE
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) January 2, 2022
Amid supply issues and reports of price gouging, Mr Morrison again defended not doing more to provide free rapid antigen Covid tests to vulnerable Australians.
"We are at another stage of this pandemic now [and] we just cannot go around and make everything free," he said.
Hospitals 'struggling' with hundreds of staff isolating
Across the country, there are currently 51 people on ventilators and 148 Covid patients in the ICU.
In NSW where cases are rapidly building, the hospital system is grappling with staff shortages, the AMA has warned.
As of Monday in NSW, 1,204 people were in hospital with coronavirus including 83 in intensive care, 24 of whom require ventilation. That number was up from 1066 on Sunday.
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Australian Medical Association vice president Chris Moy said the system was "struggling" with staff shortages as case numbers rise and health workers fall sick, test positive or are identified as close contacts.
Dr Moy said entires teams are being wiped out.
"People look at the numbers and see the 1066 in hospitals but the health system doesn't just look after Covid and people are having critical surgery delayed," he told AAP.
Increased mixing over Christmas and New Year, more transmissible variant, who could have predicted more tests might be needed? pic.twitter.com/h8VU1YAWIy
— Stephen Duckett (@stephenjduckett) January 1, 2022
At the peak of the Delta outbreak on September 21, there were 1,266 people hospitalised with infections, and 244 in intensive care.
A NSW Health spokesperson said as of December 30, 2,510 healthcare workers were in isolation after being exposed to Covid-19.
Exemptions may be given in exceptional circumstances for healthcare employees who are deemed critical and who cannot work from home but only if they are asymptomatic, the spokesperson said.
Dr Moy said NSW Health's policy change showed the "desperation" to fill up rosters.
On Monday morning, federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the issue of forced staff isolation among healthcare workers was a "real issue" facing the system and one the government was looking to address this week.
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