Over-run Australian hospitals set up TENTS to deal with patient influx

Over-run Australian hospitals set up TENTS to deal with patient influx and New Zealand PM defends ‘Covid zero’ policy as both countries see record coronavirus infections

  • Emergency outdoor tents have been set up outside two hospitals in Sydney to help manage patient influx
  • New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern said her strict lockdown was limiting the spread of the Delta variant, despite rising cases
  • Australia’s cases of Covid surpassed 1,000 for first time since pandemic began

Major hospitals in Australia have become so over-run that they have been forced to set up emergency outdoor tents to help deal with a rise in Covid-19 patients.

The makeshift units have been set up outside two hospitals in Sydney in response to an influx of patients as the city struggles to stamp out the fast-spreading Delta variant. 

In neighbouring New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her ‘Covid zero’ elimination strategy amid fears an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant has rendered the policy ineffective. 

Both Australia and New Zealand are seeing record Covid-19 infections despite their draconian lockdown measures which have proved powerless to prevent the infectious variant.

Australia’s new daily cases of Covid-19 surpassed 1,000 on Thursday for the first time since the global pandemic began, while New Zealand recorded the largest cluster of cases the country has recorded throughout the entire pandemic with 277 cases.     

In Sydney, the rapid rise in Covid-19 patients has forced the major Westmead and Blacktown hospitals, which service the city’s sprawling suburbs, to erect tents to screen and swab patients to help manage capacity. Pictured: NSW Ambulances park in the receiving bay for the Emergency Department at the Blacktown Hospital

 

Both Australia and New Zealand are seeing record Covid-19 infections despite their draconian lockdown measures which has proved powerless to prevent the infectious variant

It comes after Ardern decided to extend lockdown measures this week in response to rising cases as her zero Covid policy becomes undone day by day. 

Her decision to extend lockdown was branded ‘absurd’ and ‘unfathomable’ in an attempt to totally eradicate the virus when confronted with the Delta variant, coupled with a slow vaccination rollout.

Scientists have warned ‘zero Covid’ is near impossible with the Delta strain, which is many times more infectious than the original virus that emerged in China. 

In Sydney, the rapid rise in Covid-19 patients has forced the major Westmead and Blacktown hospitals, which service the city’s sprawling suburbs, to erect tents to screen and swab patients to help manage capacity. 

The makeshift unit in the emergency department for COVID-19 patients will help ‘to offload delays’, a Western Sydney Local Health District spokesperson.

New South Wales (NSW) state, where Sydney is the capital, reported 1,029 new locally acquired cases, exceeding the previous record of 919 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 969 were detected in greater Sydney, up from 838.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities had quadrupled the number of the state’s intensive care ventilators to 2,000 early last year. Although the system is ‘under pressure’, it can withstand the current crisis once vaccination rates rise, she said.

‘It might be different to the help you got before because of the situation, but please know the system is kicking in,’ Berejiklian said at a televised media conference

Of 116 people in intensive care in NSW, 102 are not vaccinated. Three new deaths were reported, including a man in his 30s who died at home, taking deaths from the latest outbreak to 79, although the death rate has slowed since last year.

In a video posted on Twitter Wednesday night, the Australian Paramedic Association said paramedics were given a choice to wait in their vehicles with infected people or ‘wait outside in the freezing rain’ due to the rise in patients.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, Ardern said the strict nationwide lockdown enforced to stamp out COVID-19 was helping limit the spread of the Delta variant, despite the number of new cases rising on Thursday.   

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has defended her ‘Covid zero’ elimination strategy amid fears an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant has rendered the policy ineffective

A Delta case emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run without local transmission in New Zealand, one of the world’s last Covid-free zones.

That infection has since ballooned into the largest cluster the country has recorded throughout the entire pandemic, with 277 cases.

Ardern said she believed even the Delta strain could again be stamped out in the community and health experts were advising her to stick with the elimination approach.

‘In their view, it’s not only possible, it remains the best strategy and I totally agree,’ she said Thursday after announcing 68 new community cases.

Her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison this week said it was ‘just absurd’ to try to eliminate Delta, adding: ‘New Zealand can’t do that.’

Australia pursued a Covid-zero policy for about 18 months, but runaway Delta outbreaks mean some authorities there are now talking more about containment than elimination.

The New Zealand Herald this week asked if Ardern was ‘chasing rainbows’ trying to quash Delta and even her Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins conceded it raised ‘big questions’ about the policy’s effectiveness.

Ardern said she was ‘not fussed’ by such concerns, pointing to the success of a pandemic response in New Zealand which has resulted in just 26 deaths among a population of five million.

‘We wanted to save people’s lives, and we have; We wanted to try to have people’s lives lived as normally as possible, and we’ve had some of the shortest periods of restrictions of any country,’ she said.

‘And we wanted to save jobs and the economy, with the economy running at pre-Covid levels, we’ve done that too.’

Staff members perform a test at the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington amid harsh lockdown measures and rising Covid cases

Ardern said Delta had forced tweaks to the elimination strategy – such as a faster national lockdown and more extensive testing – but it was still a valid goal.

She said New Zealand could examine alternative policies when it improved vaccination rates, which are currently among the lowest in the developed world, with about 20 percent of the population fully inoculated.

‘No one wants to use lockdowns forever and that is not our intention… but for now, while we vaccinate, elimination is the goal and we can do it,’ she said.  

Meanwhile, the fast-moving Delta strain has taken the gloss off Australia’s early success against the virus that kept its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with some 47,700 cases and 989 deaths. About 32 per cent of people above 16 have been fully vaccinated while just over 54 per cent have had at least one dose.

Besides Sydney, the country’s second-largest city, Melbourne, and capital, Canberra, are also in hard lockdowns, putting more than half of the country’s 25 million population under strict stay-at-home orders.

Cases in Victoria, home to Melbourne, surged to 80 on Thursday, up from 45 a day earlier.

The federal government is pushing ahead with the country’s reopening plans once vaccination rates reach 70%-80%, but some states have hinted they may delay given the rapid growth of cases in Sydney.

Berejiklian said NSW may reach 70% fully vaccinated by mid-October, and airline Qantas said it was preparing for international travel to resume in December.

Also on Thursday, grocer Woolworths Group reported a surge in annual profit as lockdowns sparked demand for household essentials. 

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