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Brisbane hospital staff in isolation over virus fears

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Fifteen staff at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital have been told to self-isolate for 14 days after coming into contact with an emergency patient later found to have coronavirus.

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It is the biggest impact that COVID-19 has so far had on Queensland hospital staff, who, along with GPs, will be at the frontline of the looming pandemic. The need to quarantine anyone who may have been exposed to the virus will put the workforce under significant pressure in the coming months.

Already in NSW, there has been localised transmission of COVID-19 in hospitals and aged care homes. Staff at one Sydney home collectively called in sick on Wednesday, forcing NSW Health to assemble a replacement team, while 40 doctors and nurses at a Sydney hospital have also had to self-isolate.

Based on federal government advice, state health departments have also directed that any staff who have recently returned from China, Iran, Italy or South Korea stay away from their workplace for 14 days as a precaution.

One of the most recent Queensland cases of COVID-19 involved a Chinese student, 20, who went to the Mater Hospital’s emergency department on Monday and had swabs taken before being sent home.

When the test results came back positive, an ambulance was called and the man was taken to the more-equipped Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital where he remains in isolation undergoing treatment.

Contact tracing led to the Mater, where staff who may have been exposed have now been sent home to determine whether they develop COVID-19 symptoms, without putting other staff and patients at risk.

“This measure was taken as a precaution in line with Queensland Health recommendations,” a Mater spokeswoman told InQueensland.

“The safety of our patients and staff members is our highest priority and Mater is complying with all Queensland Health requests. Whilst the actual risk is low, this is a precautionary measure.”

The man’s flatmate at Toowong was tested and found not to have COVID-19, but will still self-isolate for 14 days as a precaution. There has yet to be a confirmed case of COVID-19 transmitted locally in Queensland; the man is suspected to have brought it back from Dubai, where he had a recommended 14-day stopover en route from China.

It is understood no other hospital staff in Queensland have had to be sent home as a precaution, however the RBWH has urged staff to reacquaint themselves with infection control procedures and practices.

A total of thirteen people in Queensland have been confirmed with COVID-19. They all recently returned from overseas, including three people from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

GP groups have called for Medicare rebates that would allow consultations to be done remotely, rather than face-to-face, while Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone has warned that the system is already “stretched”.

“As things escalate, we will obviously have to review the balance between resources dedicated to the COVID-19, as opposed to all the other activities that we expect our hospitals to provide,” Bartone told ABC News 24.

“We need to ensure that GPs in the frontline, as well as the ED (emergency department) doctors in our hospitals and all the other health care workers, are protected against any unwitting spread or exposure to the infection. We’ve seen what the knock-on of one can be, and we need to realise that absenteeism, because of enforced quarantine is going to be a significant issue to deal with.”

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