In what feels like a depressingly ironic full-circle moment, Victoria has announced that it’ll be using quarantine hotels to house COVID patients because hospitals are so overrun.
The ‘medi-hotels’ in question are The Pullman on Swanston Street and The Mantra in Epping, and they’ll be primarily used to house people who are near the end of their COVID treatment, according to Deputy Premier James Merlino.
“This is where Covid patients nearing the end of their hospital stay can be transferred to complete their treatment, these medi-hotels will provide care for patients who need a lower level of care with all the benefits of a controlled environment.
“This will alleviate some of the pressure on our hospitals, moving some patients out of the hospital system who can otherwise be cared for in a medi-hotel.”
For weeks now, hospitals around the country have been reporting that they are struggling to cope with the Omicron wave, despite numerous state and federal leaders insisting that the country’s health system is adequately equipped.
In early January, Scott Morrison said that because Omicron generally produces a milder illness than Delta, in this outbreak more people would be “managing their health at home”.
“That doesn’t mean to say it can’t put pressure on the hospital system. It can. And that’s what we’re working very closely with the premiers and chief ministers to make sure those resources are there,” he said.
Today, Victoria saw its number of COVID-19 hospitalisations increase to 976, with 112 in ICU and 30 on ventilators. James Merlino said that half of ICU patients were unvaccinated people, who represent six per cent of Vic’s population.
In his statement, Merlino explained that the new medi-hotels would be staffed in partnership with Royal Melbourne Hospital and Northern Health. They’ll be able to provide care for around 300 patients at a time.
Unvaccinated overseas arrivals who still have to quarantine in hotels will also be kept seperate from where COVID patients are treated.
“The medi-hotels will provide us with an extra buffer at a time when COVID-19 case numbers and related hospital admissions are rising,” Merlino said.
Speaking to the ABC, Dr Chris Moy, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said there were some limitations to the idea.
“The type of patient that can be looked after in the hotel is extremely low-level in terms of their need, and will have to be selected out very carefully.
“And then it’s going to be quite a burden on staff there to make sure everyone is OK.”
However Dr Don Campbell from Melbourne Northern Hospital, which’ll be sending some of its patients to one of the medi-hotels, told the broadcaster that the system was safe.
“At every level, we have thought “I don’t know how we’ll cope if numbers increase”. But every time numbers increase, we find a way to make sure we can provide safe care for our staff and for our patients.
“People will be as safe there as they would be in the hospital.”
While hopefully that’s true and this decision does help ease pressure on Vic’s hospitals, it still feels incredibly grim that two years into a pandemic we’ve ended up in this situation.
Ultimately, hotels shouldn’t have to be standing in for hospitals because the country’s health system should never have been put under this level of pressure in the first place.
Getty Images / Darrian Traynor