‘Irresponsible’ tourists could bring down health system
A RURAL Queensland doctor has labelled tourists as "irresponsible", and has warned a complete lockdown would not necessarily prevent further peaks of the deadly coronavirus.
Dr Ben Brimblecombe from St George was last week calling on everyone to take social distancing seriously, or risk winding up in an Italian-style lockdown situation.
Since then, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a range of stringent new social distancing measures, and the Queensland Premier has closed the state's borders to protect from further spread of COVID-19.
"People really should not be travelling if they don't need to," he said.
"Tourists come under that banner, it's a bit irresponsible at this time. Any movement between any places means there's potential spread.
"That's how it could enter our communities, is if there are people coming from more urban areas to this less populated area."
Dr Brimblecombe expects the Balonne Shire to see its first presentation of the coronavirus in a matter of weeks.
As to whether he would support closing the shire's borders to prevent an outbreak, Dr Brimblecombe said there was one major issue with strict regional lockdowns.
"If we, as a nation or a state, do a strict lockdown for a certain period of time, there's the risk that when we come out of that, that there has been some spread in that time," he said.
"There's then another spike of cases. It's the same for when they reopen international travel, countries need to be strict to ensure no cases are let in.
"To make it sustainable, a lockdown could go for as long as six months."
Earlier this week, Balonne Shire Mayor Richard Marsh was asked whether it would be possible to close the shire's borders to protect the residents.
An idea Dr Brimblecombe said could help regional Queensland shires prevent mass outbreaks that would overwhelm the hospital system.
"If we have lots of people presenting with severe cases of coronavirus, particularly with pneumonia and need ventilation, we don't have the equipment and beds in our hospitals to deal with that," he said.
"It would depend on the referral centre, and whether we could get some of those patients to Toowoomba or Brisbane.
"But if they are full and don't have space for extra patients, and we need to sent patients out, that's when it becomes a real problem.
"It's a numbers game stacked against us, unless we put strict measures in place."
While the St George Medical Centre has not yet implemented mass telehealth rollouts, Dr Brimblecombe said the advice to patients would eventually become: do not come into the practice unless absolutely necessary.
"There is an element of fear around with people coming into the medical centre," he said.
"I think the thing for us is that people are still coming into the medical centre for more trivial things that can wait. What we're advising is if you are mildly unwell, it's best to just self-isolate and stay home.
"There will soon be undue stress on our health system, and we don't know where the end point is."
Dr Brimblecombe said conversations had also had to be had regarding whether private practice doctors would be needed to help soon-to-be overcrowded hospitals cope with the virus outbreak, particularly in small rural towns.
"It comes into this idea of levels of disasters, so to speak. If the hospital is overwhelmed and there are a number of urgent cases, that does take precedence," he said.
"I would be happy to help. If they're overwhelmed, we would step in."