‘Compulsory’: Top doc’s call on virus issue

 

The former president of the Australian Medical Association has said masks should be made compulsory on ABC's QandA program overnight while warning NSW faces a second wave of coronavirus cases.

In the program on Monday night, Dr Kerryn Phelps, who is also a City of Sydney Councillor and briefly held the federal seat of Wentworth, added that Australia needs to work towards eliminating the virus from the country and not just eradicating it.

"We need to head towards them being compulsory," Dr Phelps said, adding "what we need to do now is work out the most appropriate form of mask," taking into consideration factors including the cost at a time when many are out of work.

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Dr Kerryn Phelps has advocated for an eradication strategy.
Dr Kerryn Phelps has advocated for an eradication strategy.

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Dr Phelps was backed by Nepean Hospital respiratory physician Lucy Morgan, who said "masks should be everywhere … we should be wearing masks more and more."

It came after health authorities in New South Wales on Monday urged people to start wearing face masks in a range of scenarios, as community transmission of COVID-19 grows.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the medical advice on the need for masks had changed and said people should wear one in four key circumstances.

Those four areas are: 1) If you're in an enclosed space like public transport or a supermarket; 2) If you're in a customer service job; 3) If you attend a place of worship; and; 4) If you're in a COVID-19 hotspot or an area of high community transmission.

The Premier described wearing a mask as "the fourth line of defence".

In Melbourne, police are able to issue on-the-spot fines of $200 to those not wearing a face covering without a legitimate reason.

Dr Phelps warned NSW needs to anticipate a second wave of infections and pleaded for people to isolate.

"Isolation is really the best thing we have to protect the community," she said.

Dr Phelps added that current approaches looking to suppress the virus are not enough and the goal should instead be to eliminate the virus from the country.

"We need to think about elimination, we can do it, we got very close to it, we just need to hold the line," she said.

The panel also heard from two people who had relatives in aged care facilities where the virus had broken out.

Royal Melbourne Hospital nurse Abby Fistrovich said the problems in the aged care sector that have been exposed in the pandemic could have been fixed a decade ago.

"We have known about this crisis in aged care for a very long time," she said.

"I worked as a personal care attendant during my undergraduate of nursing 13 years ago, and the problems then are still the same as the problems now."

A woman makes a delivery of supplies to Opal South Valley Aged Care in Highton. Picture: Alan Barber
A woman makes a delivery of supplies to Opal South Valley Aged Care in Highton. Picture: Alan Barber

Liberal MP for the seat of Bowman Andrew Laming defended his government's handling on aged care, including why no "detailed response" had been given to 14 recommendations from a report an independent task force delivered in June 2018.

"There is thousands upon thousands of aged care facilities that have learnt the lessons we have just run through tonight and realised that vigilance is so critical," Mr Laming said.

"They are doing the right thing and have been able to contain and prevent COVID in these extremely dangerous circumstances."

Mr Laming said the "focus" is on the frontline, including making sure there was adequate protective equipment.

Newmarch House aged care home was the site of a virus cluster in NSW. Picture: Damian Shaw
Newmarch House aged care home was the site of a virus cluster in NSW. Picture: Damian Shaw

Shadow assistant aged care Minister and former head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Ged Kearney said she had "no idea" why the report's recommendations hadn't been acted on "other than to say that the Morrison Government has failed aged care".

"The report is a seminal report and talks about the workforce, there's not enough workers," Ms Kearney said.

"We have wonderful carers and they're not supported by enough nurses or doctors or access to physiotherapists."

Ms Kearney said there was a cultural problem in aged care and the workforce didn't have the power to speak up about issues out of fear of losing their casual jobs.

"They are casually and precariously employed and have to work across several facilities just to make a living, and this is a workforce that's working in a sector that has a culture problem, where it is privately operated, these are organisations that are run for profit, and you really have to question the goal of those organisations."

Originally published as 'Compulsory': Top doc's call on virus issue



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