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Put up or stay shut up: PM under pressure to release surge modelling

Politics

A leading epidemiologist believes relatively COVID-free states such as Queensland should be able to manage a coronavirus case surge amid a fight over hospital funding.

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The Morrison government is under increasing pressure to release modelling about how Australia’s hospitals will cope with rising infections as the country reopens.

The national cabinet of federal, state and territory leaders last week received an update on health system capacity when restrictions ease at 70 and 80 per cent over-16 double vaccination coverage.

Queensland, in particular, says its hospital system is under pressure despite the state remaining relatively COVID-free and wants additional federal funding.

Epidemiologist Tony Blakely finds the state-federal argy-bargy over hospitals “odd”.

“There’s been so much time for a plan here that all the states should be able to meet some surge in hospitalisation,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

“Queensland should be able to manage some of these surges, as well, so I find it very odd to see what’s happening there.”

Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy, who has been working with Deputy Chief Medical Officer Sonya Bennett on the modelling, supports the figures about hospital capacity being made public.

“I would favour a transparent approach, but that is up to national cabinet,” he said on Tuesday.

Professor Murphy said the work showed states and territories were equipped to handle any rising demand for hospital treatment when Australia reopens.

“We are confident they will cope but the best way to make sure no health system is overwhelmed is for everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid is less confident, given the experience of NSW and Victoria during the ongoing third coronavirus wave.

“What about the heart attacks and strokes? What about people who still need elective surgery to keep living their lives with a reasonable quality of life?” he told the ABC.

“That’s what falls by the wayside when hospitals get overrun.”

Dr Khorshid said pre-pandemic ambulance ramping and people increasingly presenting to hospitals with more complex conditions showed the system was in crisis.

The AMA has backed calls for federal-state public hospital funding to be split 50-50, upping the Commonwealth contribution from 45 per cent.

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said the details were being kept secret from frontline healthcare workers and the wider public.

“The community deserves to know what is going to happen to our hospital system as those lockdowns are lifted and eventually borders are open by the COVID-free jurisdictions,” he said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said there was nothing stopping individual states and territories from releasing information about their systems.

Hunt said national cabinet – which is not scheduled to meet again until November 5 – could release the hospital modelling through consensus.

All coronavirus-related hospital expenses are funded 50-50 between federal and state governments.

The health minister said the private hospitals guarantee meant an additional 30,000 beds and 57,000 nurses were available if needed, along with telehealth and other surge measures.

More than 57 per cent of over-16s have received both vaccine doses, and first-dose coverage now exceeds 80 per cent.

Victoria’s 1763 new infections reported on Tuesday set a national daily case record for any state or territory during the pandemic.

While infections in NSW are falling as jab rates climb, there were another 608 people who contracted the disease.

The ACT detected another 33 local cases and there were two in Queensland.

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