Canberra Hospital virus cases put health system at risk

Two patients at the Canberra Hospital have tested positive to COVID-19, sparking fears that other services could be disrupted and renewed calls for a vaccine mandate for healthcare staff.

The two cases were revealed as the ACT recorded 32 new COVID-19 cases, the equal highest number of daily cases since the latest outbreak began.

Twenty-six of the cases were linked and at least 24 spent part of their infectious period in the community. Ten COVID-19 patient were in hospital, four were in intensive care and three required ventilation.

One patient was admitted to the hospital on September 18 and was unknowingly positive with the virus until a test was returned on Friday night.

This patient was in a room on a general surgery ward with another patient, who has also tested positive. The ward has been declared a red zone and has been locked down.

Health authorities understand the initial patient contracted the virus outside the hospital and was asymptomatic.

A Canberra Hospital ward is in lockdown after two patients contracted COVID-19. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

A Canberra Hospital ward is in lockdown after two patients contracted COVID-19. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Canberra Health Service chief executive David Peffer said both cases had been moved to the COVID ward and the room was being cleaned.

"We're currently assessing any extended risk to other patients or to our workforce who worked in that ward at the time," he said.

"Patients and our team members are currently undergoing testing at the moment, and no patients will be discharged from that ward until we have a confirmed test result back."

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Mr Peffer said many different specialties moved through this ward during the week and support workers, such as food services and security, were also being contacted.

"This was one of our green zones so we hadn't expected to need to do this sort of tracing here," he said.

"However, we do certainly plan for this sort of incident occurring. And I do have to say, every day I'm very grateful for the expertise and the commitment about infection prevention control infectious disease experts who respond to this very quickly."

Canberra Health Services chief executive Dave Peffer. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Canberra Health Services chief executive Dave Peffer. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

Mr Peffer said it was a concern that the patient was unknowingly infections for a week but it was not unexpected in hospitals.

"This sort of incident is not new. This has now occurred more than 20 times in our healthcare facilities and we are prepared for it," he said.

Australian Medical Association ACT branch president Walter Abhayaratna said it was extremely concerning that the first positive patient was in hospital for a week in a ward where there was no expectation for patients to wear masks or for staff to take extra COVID precautions.

"I'm concerned for other patients in the ward, I'm concerned for staff who are in that ward, but I'm also concerned that there will be disruption to healthcare services as a consequence of this," he said.

Dr Abhayaratna said there were hundreds of staff who circulated in any one week in that ward, but that people shouldn't be unnecessarily alarmed before the test results come back.

"What we don't want to do here is to send a message saying that whole hospital is a red zone because we want patients who require help to come to the hospital," he said.

Australian Medical Association's ACT branch president Walter Abhayaratna said it was very concerning that the patient was unknowingly infectious at the hospital for a week on a green ward. Picture: Jade Harrison-Will

Australian Medical Association's ACT branch president Walter Abhayaratna said it was very concerning that the patient was unknowingly infectious at the hospital for a week on a green ward. Picture: Jade Harrison-Will

The AMA president reaffirmed his call to the ACT government to put a public health order in place for mandatory vaccination for all healthcare workers.

"We consider the patients who come to hospital to be extremely vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 therefore, we believe that people who are working in those facilities should be vaccinated. And for us to be able to do that in the best way, it requires a public health order," Dr Abhayaratna said.

On Saturday, Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the territory had not ruled out mandatory vaccination for high-risk workforces but it was waiting for a recommendation from national cabinet in October.

Dr Abhayaratna said the ACT was running out of time to put a mandate in place.

"The Chief Minister said that there is a national cabinet process whereby they're working through a nationally consistent framework for mandatory vaccination. That, for me, doesn't make logical sense and the reason it doesn't is because the public health order is created and curated by states and territories," he said.

"As we move closer to easing restrictions, it's going to take a while to implement these public health orders so what we're saying is that time is running out."

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This story 'Extremely concerning' hospital virus cases put health system at risk first appeared on The Canberra Times.