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Can Australia's health system cope with an Omicron COVID surge?

An intubated patient inside the intensive care unit of the HFR Freiburg hospital amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic Source: KEYSTONE

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 is pushing up daily case numbers to record highs and while there's no doubt it's highly transmissible, there's not enough data as yet on its severity.

With cases doubling every two to three days in New South Wales, Health Minister Brad Hazzard has warned infections could reach levels not seen so far in Australia. 

'What they're telling us is that by the end of January we could be looking at 25,000 cases of the virus every single day." 

If case numbers do climb to levels like that, key questions will be how many of those people will require admission to hospital and how many will end up needing to be treated in an intensive care unit.  

Brad Hazzard says the state government has done a lot of work to ensure the hospital system is well prepared.

"The New South Wales government has done a lot of work to make sure that our ICU's are very capable, our intensive care units are very capable, our hospitals are very capable. I want to thank, as health minister, I want to thank all the health staff who continue despite the load they have borne for two years, they continue to look after us and they will continue to look after us. Our hospital system is well equipped to look after what may come."

The General Secretary of the New South Wales Nurses and Midwives' Association, Brett Holmes, agrees the state has the hospital beds and equipment it needs - but says there are not enough intensive care nurses.

"We've had a shortage of intensive care nurses. We've had a shortage of commitment from the Ministry of Health and the local health districts to employ enough intensive care nurses. So we've been absolutely stretched to the limit and more work needs to be done to recruit as many intensive care nurses, get them familiar and prepared for the next round."

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SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at https://www.sbs.com.au/language/coronavirus

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