Governments and medical experts have agreed to throw more resources at stemming the high rate of coronavirus infections among healthcare workers.
The boost comes as senior figures talked down the impact of a research pause on a promising British-designed vaccine that has been earmarked for Australians.
Victoria alone has seen almost 3300 cases of COVID-19 in healthcare workers, with 354 currently active and 860 hospital staff furloughed.
“Now that we’ve seen the second wave in Victoria we’ve seen a large number of healthcare workers getting infected,” deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said.
“Over 3300 is not an acceptable figure for any government.”
The plan will involve two national expert groups working more closely to review the latest evidence on infection prevention and control.
There will be an expansion of national surveillance of healthcare worker infection to get a better idea of the type of workers being impacted and why it is happening.
A new network of disease detectives will be available on request to state and territory public health units to investigate healthcare worker outbreaks.
“Our healthcare workers are doing an outstanding job,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a joint statement with the Australian Medical Association.
“They are at the frontline of our fight against COVID-19 and deserve the greatest possible protection from contracting the virus themselves.”
West Australian nurse Renee Freeman is among the healthcare staff to contract the disease while working in Victoria.
She and six colleagues, who have all tested negative, are in isolation and are slated to be flown home at the end of two weeks of hotel quarantine in Melbourne.
On Wednesday, Victoria reported 11 coronavirus deaths and 76 new cases.
The deaths take the state toll to 694 and the national figure to 781.
Queensland reported eight cases, however, all but one were already in isolation when they tested positive.
Coatsworth said he was pleased with contact tracing improvements across the country, with Victoria now meeting national performance benchmarks 95 per cent of the time.
Best practice involves notifying cases to public health units within 24 hours, completing tracing of contacts within 24 hours, and quarantining close contacts within 48 hours.
“That is precisely what is going to assist Victoria controlling lower numbers of COVID-19 and lift their restrictions in due course,” Coatsworth said.
Victoria is also digitising contact tracing, moving teams of disease detectives into the suburbs and seeking advice from NSW experts.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca and Oxford University suspended the late-stage study on what is considered one of the world’s most promising vaccines after one participant experienced a serious adverse reaction.
An independent committee will review the unexplained illness before the trial resumes.
Australia is hoping to gain early access to 3.8 million doses of the vaccine for distribution in January.
Coatsworth said it showed the built-in safety checks were working and it was possible the trial could resume within days.Do you have an idea for a story?
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