RACGP urges action on NT COVID-19 spread

Jolyon Attwooll

15/02/2022 4:55:14 PM

Hospitalisations are rising in the territory, with doctors concerned about complacency and the knock-on effects for primary care. 

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The college is backing calls for more to be done to tackle the Omicron outbreak in the Northern Territory.
It comes amid a rising hospitalisation rate and several deaths, including five within the past week.
Last week, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) raised concerns about the response to the virus’s spread.
AMSANT CEO John Paterson warned that ‘complacency and overly optimistic assurances present a real risk of avoidable adverse consequences’’
Professor Peter O’Mara, Chair of the RACGP’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Faculty, echoed those words, describing the Northern Territory’s health system as ‘overloaded’ and putting severe pressure on primary care.
‘This will have a serious impact on the health and wellbeing of Territorians,’ he said.
‘We know lack of access to care leads to worsening health conditions, including chronic conditions, as well as delayed diagnosis.’
To help protect the community and slow transmission, both AMSANT and the RACGP are calling for more action to address the lower double vaccination rate in the territory, and to increase booster coverage.
The current booster rate in the territory is around 43%.
‘Unfortunately, the Omicron strain has brought with it complacency that it’s a “milder” strain,’ Professor O’Mara said.
‘However, the emerging evidence shows it’s largely milder for those who are fully vaccinated and boosted.
‘This message urgently needs to get out to the community: high vaccination and booster coverage is critical to protect our community.’
Both the college and AMSANT are also calling for group isolation facilities to be set up in all regional centres, following reports that some COVID-positive people are leaving their homes to prevent infection of vulnerable family members without supportive shelters to go to.
Prior to the emergence of Omicron, the NT government said its health system could cope with 30–100 COVID cases a day, and a peak of six ICU beds at any one time.
But it has been a very different reality, with the territory recording more than 1000 cases on average each day at the start of the month. That total has since fallen slightly, with 757 new infections reported in the 24 hours up to 14 February.
And while the ICU rate has also fallen in the past week, with one patient currently in intensive care, the number of hospitalisations is still rising. Last week, the rate of admissions was calculated at almost twice the pace of those in NSW at the peak of its Omicron wave.
According to Professor Catherine Bennett, who is Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University, NSW recorded around 3.5 COVID-related hospitalisations for every 10,000 residents, while the Northern Territory was experiencing close to 6.32 COVID-related admissions per 10,000 people.
Federal Government statistics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vaccination rates in the territory’s local government areas vary from 83% double-vaccinated in Darwin to 66.8% in Barkly.
There are, however, discrepancies in the vaccination rates reported by state and federal authorities, with the Northern Territory government suggesting the official figures from the Federal Government do not give an accurate reflection of the territory’s population.
‘COVID-19 vaccination data published by the Commonwealth Government utilises methodologies that are best suited to larger and less transient populations, and therefore does not always meet reporting requirements specific to the NT,’ the territory government’s website reads.
Mr Patterson warned that if action isn’t taken that the situation could deteriorate further.
‘The high case numbers will continue to translate into high hospital numbers if we don’t slow it down,’ he said.
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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander COVID-19 Northern Territory Omicron primary care vaccination

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