Opening Statement to Senate Select Committee, COVID-19 - AMA President Dr Khorshid

27 Jan 2021

OPENING REMARKS – AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid
AMA Submission to the Senate Select Committee, COVID-19 
Parliament House, Canberra, 11am, Thursday 28 January 2021

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid at Senate Select Committee, COVID-19

I acknowledge traditional owners of the lands on which we meet, pay respect to elders past and present, and thank the Committee for the opportunity to appear before it today.

Australia continues to manage the response to the global pandemic well.

Decisions by the Commonwealth have generally reflected medical advice, although the AMA expressed significant concern late last year that the National Cabinet: Framework for National Reopening prioritised the economy over health. That is the wrong approach.

With the change in emphasis and the rush to open up, it came as no surprise to the AMA that we saw serious outbreaks and the Framework failed to meet its stated goal of normal by Christmas. With new and more transmissible variants of the virus now circulating around the globe, it is even more unrealistic than before.

Despite our relative success, Australia is still vulnerable to COVID-19.  Now is not the time to become complacent, particularly as increasing numbers of people with the new variants of the virus are placed in hotel quarantine. This has proven effective, but it is not perfect.  

Health Care Workers are not being afforded the protection they deserve, particularly with respect to the personal protective equipment guidelines that have been developed through the Commonwealth’s Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG).

The aerosol spread of COVID-19 is real and one of the reasons why Health Care Workers are over-represented in COVID-19 infection numbers.  Yet, in many circumstances they continue to be told that a surgical mask offers sufficient protection from the virus.

Other countries are taking the protection of health care workers far more seriously.

The AMA hoped Australia’s approach might change once the Commonwealth commissioned the National Covid 19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce to provide further advice in this area.

Despite it being over four months since this announcement was made, there has been no meaningful change. This is simply not good enough.

Australia will soon see the roll out of one or more COVID-19 vaccines. This is good news and our TGA has been able to apply its usual rigour to the assessment of vaccine candidates. This rigour should give the community cause for great confidence and encourage take up.

We have also seen other countries try and rush their vaccine roll outs, only to hit hurdles and miss deadlines. We have an opportunity to avoid the same mistakes and the AMA is providing advice to the Commonwealth about the design and implementation of its vaccine roll out.

We welcome the Government’s focus on general practice in its COVID-19 vaccination plans. GPs are ready to play their part in rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine, with a demonstrated track record on immunisation. Their capacity should not be questioned, with GPs already delivering millions of vaccinations each year.

General practice provides a very safe environment for immunisation and GPs can support patients to make the right decision about whether or not the vaccine is appropriate for their circumstances.

GPs will need appropriate support and, in this regard, the AMA has already worked with the Government to secure additional funding support for general practice. This is welcome.

Many people wished for the end of 2020 and hoped that 2021 would signal better times ahead. While we have the promise of a vaccine roll out, the community and policy makers must understand that there is still a way to go before we can return to some sort of normal life.

Social distancing and restrictions will remain a feature of everyday life and the Commonwealth will need to ensure that its policy approach continues to focus on protecting the health of the community and resists ongoing pressure from some groups to open up too quickly.