Health workers 'relieved' over WA border opening delay, but not all convinced it will work – ABC News

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Throughout the pandemic, the preparedness of the health system has been at the core of decision making.
While WA Premier Mark McGowan maintains the hospital system is "strong and ready" to deal with COVID-19, he has also pointed to hospitalisations in other states as one of the reasons for delaying the border re-opening.
“[The east] has hospitals overflowing with patients, hospitals in meltdown,” he said.
“It would be grossly irresponsible of me not to act on that.” 
Mr McGowan said delaying the border re-opening also provided an opportunity for people to get booster shots, which he said were key to fighting Omicron.
He said it would also provide extra time to get children vaccinated, for extra beds to come on stream and rapid antigen tests to arrive, while "best-practice" rules for close contacts are worked out. 
So is it the right move for our health system?
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said while there has been relief from staff, he didn't think the delay was the fix that was needed.
"The hospital system is not ready, but is it going to be ready in a month?" he said. 
"We've had a couple of years, so I don't think that's what we need.”
Further to that, he raised questions about whether the timing could potentially make it worse.
Western Australia once again has been left indefinitely closed off to the rest of the world. How did it come to this, and where do we go from here?
"My great fear is by waiting until winter… people with immune deficiency syndromes, healthcare workers, their immunity is all going to be six months old.
"And you're in winter when our public hospitals are already struggling even without any COVID-19."
Dr Khorshid said he thought a "middle-ground" approach, like the one taken in South Australia, was a better option.
But he said "at best", a closed border buys time to prepare.
AMA WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said the government needed to use the time wisely to recruit health professionals while creating robust guidelines, policy and contingency plans to make sure their medical resources were used to maximum effect.
He also called for "modest restrictions" to be implemented to address the current community spread of covid-19.
The WA secretary of the Australian Nurses Federation Mark Olsen was more optimistic. 
He said time was exactly what the health system needed.
"Relief is the word from (the majority) of our members," he said.
"These are the nurses, midwives, the carers working in our public health system that know we need more time. 
"I think the Premier has saved hundreds of lives with this decision."
He said the delay would give them time to finalise a range of measures. 
This included isolation and close contact protocols, a plan for patient and visitor expectations, sorting out rapid antigen test issues and time to "road test" the surge models around Omicron. 
Relief has been echoed from WA's north, where vaccination rates are low.
Statistics from Monday show the Pilbara region has just 55 per cent of its residents aged 12 and over double-dose vaccinated.
Pilbara Aboriginal Health Alliance chief executive Chris Pickett said the delayed reopening would allow time to improve the region's rates.
"I know the decision is not going to please a lot of people," he said.
"But from the health services side of things, I think it's enormous relief to people that will be given an opportunity to spend more time getting the vaccination rates up and getting those third doses out there."
The Premier’s key justification for delaying the border reopening was to allow time for people to get the booster shot, and for children aged five to 11 to get vaccinated.
Mr McGowan said people with two doses have a four per cent protection against being infected with Omicron, which jumps to 63 per cent with the third dose. 
"In addition, protection against severe disease is maintained at 80 per cent to 90 per cent for people with two doses, but increases to 98 per cent for people with three doses," he said. 
Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says community cases already occurring in Perth might mean the spread of Omicron will determine when WA can reopen.
Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett told ABC Radio Perth the booster did make a big difference with the Omicron variant. 
“We do know that with our primary course, we don’t have that same protection (against Omicron) that we do against other variants, particularly some months out,” she said.
But Dr Bennett said she wasn’t sure how successful the border closure would be in limiting the impacts of Omicron in WA, given it was already in the community. 
“While the number of people [in WA] who had their first dose is really high, there's still 10 per cent of those people waiting to have the second dose,” she said.
"And then you have wait again until you have a booster so that you get that extra effect [from the third jab]."
She said it was still too early to tell how long it took for the immunity to wane from the booster shot.
Health advice from Chief Health Officer Andy Robertson released on the WA Government website said it was expected that 75 per cent of the eligible population would have received their booster by March 2, up from 35 per cent by February 5. 
But Dr Robertson said the waning protection from boosters was anticipated to offset this gain, particularly among the elderly and healthcare workers who received their boosters early. 
He said decisions on future dates would require further modelling. 
WA Opposition Leader Mia Davies told ABC Goldfields the border opening delay was an "admission" the government had not used the time properly.
"There will be a lot of people who feel betrayed, and a lot of people feeling relieved," she said.
"That relief should be followed by anger because we have had a lot of time to prepare, and I think it's an admission that the government hasn't used that time properly."
Ms Davies said she could not see how the delay would solve the problems at hand, and had not been able to get a briefing from the Chief Health Officer.
"I struggle to understand what this is going to do to allow us to be better prepared,” she said.
"The entire nation is struggling for health workers, so we are very unlikely to be able to bring people into a health system that is under pressure already."
Ms Davies said the moment to help the health system had now passed and the government had "squandered the gift of time".
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"That moment was the last two years, and probably even further back than that," she said.
Mr McGowan said hospitals were "as ready as they can be" and significant investments had been made in the health system.
"Last year, we announced 3.2 billion dollars of additional spend on beds, doctors, nurses and the like," he said. 
"But the hospital issues are also to do with staffing issues. 
"A lot of our recruitment is actually overseas and that has been difficult because countries around the world are doing the same thing."
He said they had put 300 additional beds in place, with another 220 still to be rolled out. 
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