COVID-19 - what next for Western Australia?

COVID19 PPE mask

Article by Paul Bailey
Medical Director at St John WA

Having been a Fremantle Dockers supporter for the best part of 25 years, I have come to accept disappointment as inevitable.

So imagine my surprise at Western Australia’s apparent success – at least so far – in confronting a virus that has done its best to take down the world.

Being one of the most isolated places on the planet is working to our advantage.

Western Australia was still in the very early stages of community penetration of the virus when decisions were made at the national level to stop travellers seeding our population via air and sea.

Locally, we acted early to prevent people from entering our state from other parts of the country and severely restricted travel between various regions.

We have proven that social distancing and cutting ourselves off from the outside works. We now have to engineer a solution that eventually gets us back to school, university, work and life generally.

But in order for the health system to cope with a potential increase in infection rates, we need sufficient physical capacity, enough equipment, drugs etc – PPE is particularly important, and we need sufficient staff to run the system. Fail on any one of those and it’s a deal breaker.

We have plenty of capacity right now in both our acute hospitals and ambulance service, but as we wrestle COVID-19 to its knees, we must be careful not to upset the balance that could see our energies over turned.

The pressure in some ways has gone up, because we have the eyes of the country, if not the world waiting to see how we will move forward from here.

So the burning question is around timing and sequence. There’s a while to go before we have to make this decision, and I expect we will be ably led by our politicians who have done a tremendous job getting us to the point where we actually have choice. 

How do we address the education of our young people, particularly those in upper high school and university? What would back to school look like? Could it include a stepped reintroduction, perhaps bringing upper years back first and watching the effects in our disease statistics? 

We also need to get people back to work. Those able to work from home can continue to do so, but there are many who can’t and a solution is needed that gets life back on track for as many of us as possible, as soon as practicable.

There are risks in going too hard too early, and undoing all the good work we have done so far, just as there are risks in waiting too long. 

We need to be visualising a Goldilocks approach – not too early, not too late, but just right. We need to take it gently and keep an eye on the numbers of infected patients. We can always reinstitute social distancing if it looks like we are losing control of the numbers of infected patients. 

I think we can win. Having choices, doing well, contemplating what’s next.  It’s a rare privilege in this COVID-19 affected world. Perhaps this is the dark humour that comes with practicing emergency medicine, but maybe this is what it feels like to be an Eagles supporter.

Posted on:

15 April 2020

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