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Nurses, doctors and other hospital staff being forced to work in unsafe conditions, bullied for wearing masks

Doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are being forced to work in unsafe working conditions and feel they are being put at risk of catching COVID-19.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers reported today that access to masks has been restricted at some hospitals and any staff who wear masks to protect themselves from infection are subject to bullying and “black stares”.

They spoke to three doctors from hospitals in Melbourne and Sydney who spoke of the fear at some hospitals, especially in the wake of a COVID-19 cluster at the Northern Hospital in Melbourne, where at least five healthcare workers have been infected.

The doctors also said non-clinical areas are being used for patient rooms, making physical distancing impossible, and they described following the differing levels of caution across hospitals as difficult.

"None of us signed up for these jobs in order to die on the front line. We're not soldiers," one doctor told the papers.

"I feel like it's getting to the point where a healthcare worker is going to have to die before they change the policy."

Another said they were treated like an “outcast” for bringing their own personal mask to hospital.

This is part of a wider global argument as to the efficacy of masks in the fight against coronavirus.

The current government advice on masks is to only wear one if you have symptoms. However, in light of the ongoing Victorian outbreak, experts are calling for masks to be made mandatory.

Professor of epidemiology at the University of NSW, Marylouise McLaws, recently told radio station 3AW: “If the prevalence of infection is high then you should be considering wearing some sort of face shield or face mask.

“GPs should be wearing a face shields, particularly in the areas that are hot spots at the moment.

“If you’re a healthcare worker working across facilities that’s when … risk goes up.

“Those in Melbourne, when you get on public transport wear a face mask. When you’re walking around the roads wear a face mask, particularly also in shopping malls,” she said.

AMA calls for COVID-19 restrictions pause

The Australian Medical Association has called for a temporary pause in the easing of COVID-19 restrictions nationwide in light of recent spikes in cases in Melbourne.

Recent lockdowns for specific postcodes and the controversial hard lockdown of nine public housing blocks are a “stark reminder that the battle against COVID is far from over,” said AMA President Dr Tony Bartone.

“These new outbreaks send a strong signal that the other States should rethink the pace of easing of their COVID-19 restrictions until community transmission in Melbourne is under control to avoid the risk of a similar situation playing out in their own communities,” Bartone said.

“We all want to get our lives back to normal, but it has to be a gradual and cautious process – and it must be with strict adherence to the medical advice and public health guidelines."

Bartone said that as pubs, restaurants and other areas of life restart, we should be wary that any gains can be reversed quickly and Melbourne’s outbreak highlights the need to follow public health guidelines.

“It is a stark reality check of how rapidly things can change. The disappointing reality is that the problems in Melbourne’s hotspots are directly linked to failures to follow established and successful public health guidelines.

“Against the expert medical advice, we have seen a range of failures relating to family and social events not following physical distance requirements, numerous quarantine breaches, and the irresponsible actions from elite sportsmen.  

“Before rushing back to the pub, the footy crowds, or the big weddings and parties, Australia should pause and play it safe until the Melbourne hotspots are back under control.”

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