The novel coronavirus, officially called SARS-CoV-2, causes the disease COVID-19. Since emerging in December 2019, it has captured the world’s attention.  Western Australia’s health response is guided by the national approach developed through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which receives advice from Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA).

Dr Jelena Maticevic, Public Health Registrar, WA Department of Health

Dr Jelena Maticevic, Public Health Registrar, WA Department of Health

Preparedness and response to COVID-19 is underpinned by the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), an adaptation of the Australian Health Management of Planning for Pandemic Influenza (AHMPPI).

The Chief Health Officer oversees the health response, of which there are three main ‘arms’: the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (PHEOC); the strategic Pandemic Clinical Service and Operational Response (PCSOR) ; and the operational State Health Incident Control Centre (SHICC) .

Travel restrictions, border measures and quarantine advice implemented by government early in the response have provided time for the WA health system to prepare. This includes engaginging with health and non-health sector stakeholders to identify key actions required before and during the response.

In WA, planning for and responding to the impact of COVID-19 on hospital services is informed by clinical working groups. Planning considers a variety of scenarios to enable services to manage business continuity, as well as the demand from COVID-19.

This includes strategies for patient triaging, the establishment of COVID clinics, stewardship of resources and cohorting of patients. Surge capacity is a key element of planning, particularly if the COVID-19 burden on the health care system coincides with the influx of annual influenza cases.

Laboratory capability for COVID-19 testing in WA has been prioritised. Specimen collection initially occurred at identified specimen collection centres. As the situation evolved and shortages of key laboratory reagents loomed, community testing moved to COVID clinics,  supported by domiciliary collection services in the Perth metropolitan area.

Testing suspect cases occurs within the limits of the current case definition. A surveillance system has been implemented to assist the detection of  cases and close contacts, protect vulnerable groups through early case detection and detect any  community transmission.

Primary care services are key to managing the response. Engagement includes ongoing liaison with clinicians and peak bodies about implementing infection prevention control measures including phone triage of patients, recommendations for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE),  developing guidelines, and providing public health advice and education. Guidelines, protocols and factsheets to guide health professionals will continue to be developed throughout the response.

Key non-health sector stakeholders play a crucial role in a response of this nature, ranging from care for people in self-isolation or home quarantine through to supporting recommendations to ‘flatten the curve’ by physical distancing.  It is essential the community is engaged and empowered throughout the health system’s response and health professionals continue to provide compassionate care, promote factual information and dispel fear.

Key messages

  • WA has a plan to manage the pandemic
  • Identifying and isolating cases is critical
  • Stakeholders are and will be kept informed
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