Premier Gladys Berejiklian has repeatedly warned that October would be the worst month for hospitals in NSW, but on Tuesday would not outline the modelling or health advice that informed that belief.
“The modelling changes every day, and it would be inappropriate to say, today it’s this, tomorrow it’s that. We don’t know the answer as to what it would be in October,” she said.
There are 871 COVID-19 patients in NSW hospitals, including 143 in ICU. The Premier said hospitalisations were at 5.5 per cent of active cases and the state had “room to move in terms of capacity”.
UNSW epidemiologist Associate Professor James Wood said, while hospitalisation rates should decline with the rapid uptake in vaccination, caution should be taken when analysing data because of high growth rates in cases in the past weeks and “recent cases won’t be hospitalised immediately”.
Dr Wood said higher vaccination rates will “likely to cut transmission down by 50 per cent, compared with what it was before vaccination”.
“But it will require our second dose rates to continue to improve,” he said.
Infections in unvaccinated or partially vaccinated nurses at Sydney’s hospitals continue to send ward staff into isolation.
On Friday, an unvaccinated nurse at St George Hospital, who did not acquire their infection at work, tested positive, resulting in 29 other staff members needing to isolate. Last month, a 37-person outbreak at Liverpool Hospital was linked to a partially vaccinated student nurse.
With vaccination mandatory in the aged care sector from September 17, Health Services Union Secretary Gerard Hayes said he “expected there would be staffing issues”.
“In some areas, particularly regional areas, they are trying to get vaccinated but they can’t,” he said. “And sometimes they have bookings, but their work is short of staff so they have to cancel.”
In a statement, NSW Health said it would be working with the federal government to ensure all staff across the state have the opportunity to be vaccinated before the deadline.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association General Secretary Brett Holmes said the union had already received “a handful” of resignations due to the policy, although most members were vaccinated.
A survey of 7000 of the union’s members showed more than 75 per cent were fully vaccinated (87 per cent in the Sydney metropolitan area). Eighty-four per cent had received one dose.
However, 6 per cent of survey respondents said they did not agree with COVID-19 vaccination, and about one in 10 disagreed with making it mandatory to the extent they had considered leaving the industry.
“Some nurses, they feel their consent has been taken away and the compulsory nature alone is a disincentive to them,” he said
The union has been running webinars about the COVID-19 vaccine and “strongly encourages” its members to be vaccinated. Mr Holmes said he believed the choice of the Pfizer vaccine would assist some in deciding to receive a shot.
“People who are strongly opposed are already resigning to us, and then next test will be whether they turn up to work on September 6 or September 30,” he said.
“We don’t know how strong those convictions are, but it is inevitable that some will decide to leave and this is the last time we want to lose people from the frontline.”
Alison Hodak, president of the Australian College of Critical Care Nurses, expressed concern about maintaining one-to-one nursing care in ICU and a need to divide the patient load more evenly across Sydney’s hospitals.
“What we are seeing in overseas countries, that are six to 12 months ahead of where we are at, is nurses are now leaving the workforce,” she said.
Various exemptions to the requirement exist in the public health order mandating vaccination, including for health practitioners acting in a medical or non-medical emergency (such as a fire or gas leak), or those unable to be vaccinated “due to a medical contraindication”.
The order also contains a provision to exempt “a person or class of persons” from the rules “if the Minister is satisfied it is necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of persons”.
The Premier on Tuesday said she was looking forward to “a better spring” than winter because two-thirds of the state’s adult population have now received at least one dose of a vaccine.
NSW recorded 1164 new local coronavirus cases and another four deaths, but Ms Berejiklian insisted the most important numbers now were how many people were in hospital and how many were vaccinated.
“When the vast majority of people are vaccinated, case numbers, of course, will matter. But they’ll matter less when you’ve got higher rates of vaccination because that will tell you to what extent the hospital system can cope,” she said.
Cases in NSW continue to be largely recorded in Sydney’s west, particularly in Guildford, Merrylands, Auburn, Greenacre, Bankstown and Blacktown. Health authorities remain concerned by ongoing transmission in the state’s west and far west, with another 58 cases announced on Tuesday.
Mr Hazzard said he had engaged Planning Minister Rob Stokes to seek approvals for portable accommodation to be arranged in Wilcannia, which lacked alternative accommodation for cases.
He said vaccination of Indigenous communities had been the responsibility of the federal government, and, while low rates were “disappointing and concerning”, he urged against laying blame.
“What we should be doing is putting all our energies, state and federal, to try and make sure that everybody who wants to be vaccinated is vaccinated,” he said.