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More Covid patients in Qld hospitals than at peak of pandemic - half from PNG

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Queensland’s policy of hospitalising all COVID-19 patients – to keep the community safe – has put the health system under unprecedented strain.

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On the latest Australian figures, almost all COVID-19 patients in hospital are in Queensland, due to a state policy shift that requires anyone who tests positive in hotel quarantine to be admitted. It was part of a suite of reforms aimed at preventing community transmission.

The recent arrival of more contagious strains, and a surge in infected travellers from Papua New Guinea, has led to 60 Queensland hospital beds being taken up by COVID-19 patients, some in intensive care. That is more than at any time during the pandemic.

Of those 60 active cases, 35 are travellers from Papua New Guinea. They include three new cases detected in hotel quarantine in the past 24 hours, all from Papua New Guinea.

Australia is sending medical resources and staff to Papua New Guinea, where restrictions are also being ramped up, with pubs, clubs and gaming sites to close from Wednesday, adding to the schools already closed.

The death toll in Papua New Guinea is 36 and rising, however authorities believe it underestimates the scale of the epidemic. Australia has restricted flights from Papua New Guinea however some in hospital and hotel quarantine arrived before those measures.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who was unable to convince the Commonwealth of the need for dedicated, remote quarantine, said Papua New Guinea had recorded 3,574 cases of COVID-19 and an average of 181 new cases each day.

Palaszczuk said that justified Queensland’s decision to fast-track COVID-19 vaccinations in the Torres Strait, where some 280 people have had their first injection. Queensland Health staff will also cross the border to help vaccinate neighbouring Papua New Guinea communities.

“Queensland’s Torres Strait islands are as little as four to five kilometres from Papua New Guinea,” Palaszczuk told parliament.

In Question Time, the Opposition sought to pressure Health Minister Yvette D’Ath over ambulance delays and a pre-pandemic increase in the number of people waiting for elective surgery in Queensland. She accused the Liberal National Party of being out of touch.

D’Ath said elective surgery was postponed during the pandemic and subsequent efforts to clear more patients from the waiting list had added to the pressure on hospitals. She said 600 people were also occupying hospital beds awaiting aged care placement, while much of the 11.5 per cent increase in emergency department presentations were for lower-level matters that could be dealt with by GPs. The Commonwealth funds aged care and GPs.

D’Ath said those pressures came after the health system had “weathered the seismic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

The Palaszczuk government last month announced $25 million for additional bed capacity, of which $15 million has already been released for another 130 beds. D’Ath said a campaign encouraging people to go to a GP instead of hospital would also be reactivated.

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