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Hospital system under more pressure with NSW COVID-19 reopening plan

Health experts warn hospital systems will come under increasing pressure when Australia reopens, as NSW plans to ease many restrictions for fully vaccinated residents.

NSW is taking the most forthright approach to exiting lockdown, despite a national record for any jurisdiction with 1,542 cases on Friday.

Some 3500 people diagnosed with or suspected of having the virus were transported by ambulances in NSW in the past two weeks, NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan told reporters on Friday.

“Today alone we will see another expected 3400 unique Triple Zero calls. This is the sort of thing we see regularly on New Year’s Eve,” he said.

NSW recorded nine deaths and Victoria one, taking the national toll to 1,076.

Victoria’s 334 new cases and 24 in the ACT combined with the NSW tally to set another record, with Australia hitting 1,900 infections in a single day for the first time during the pandemic.

NSW will ease a range of restrictions for fully vaccinated people at 70 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage.

Under the so-called “roadmap to freedom” unveiled on Thursday, stay-at-home orders will lift from the Monday after that target is reached, with hospitality venues, gyms and retail set to reopen.

Sharon Lewin, the director of the Doherty Institute, which provided modelling for the national reopening plan, urged leaders not to be too aggressive in their approach.

“The major risk here is the health system in NSW and that is what’s going to be absolutely critical in dialling up or down any measures,” she told ABC radio on Friday.

“The health system is really struggling there with a lot of people in hospital. That’s going to be the determining factor.”

Professor Lewin backs the principle of easing restrictions for fully vaccinated people.

“Each state is going to work through what is and isn’t acceptable,” she said.

“My personal view is that it would be fabulous if we had consistency across the states when opening up.”

Official estimates put Australia’s active cases above 32,000 with hospitalisations rising in each of the three locked-down states and territories battling outbreaks.

There are 1,156 people in NSW hospitals, with 207 in intensive care.

Of Victoria’s 127 people in hospital, 33 are in intensive care.

With cases rising in both states, there are concerns about the capacity of the health system to cope when vaccination coverage targets linked to reopening are reached.

The Australian Medical Association wants NSW to release more detail about the modelling behind its decision to reopen.

“NSW is right to ease restrictions slowly and to limit changes to people who are fully vaccinated,” AMA President Omar Khorshid said on Thursday.

“However, the key problem facing NSW is that it is looking to ease restrictions when case numbers are likely to be too high.”

Dr Khorsid said NSW should set a higher immunisation threshold to reduce pressure on the health system.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledges easing restrictions will increase pressure on hospital systems, but he doesn’t think this should stop states emerging from lockdown.

“That comes with additional pressure on the hospital system. That’s understood. That is inevitable,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“If you want to live with the virus, you inevitably have to pass down that tunnel, and that will be true in every single state and territory in the country.”

When asked about reopening, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd referred to vaccination being key as COVID-19 becomes “part of our lives”.

“What’s becoming more and more apparent is it’s likely that we will need to continue to live with COVID-19 as we live with so many other respiratory viruses,” he told SBS News.

“Through vaccinating our population, we will be able to safely open up our borders, we will be able to have people coming and going from Australia. We will be able to deal with outbreaks of COVID-19 as they appear, and the majority of people will be very well protected through vaccination.

“But people who have not been vaccinated are still going to be at risk of becoming seriously unwell. And that’s why I won’t be resting until we have very high levels of vaccination and protection for the people of our country.”