There are growing concerns about the capacity of regional New South Wales hospitals to deal with Covid outbreaks as new cases in the regions outpace infections in Sydney.
Of the 304 coronavirus cases recorded in NSW on Wednesday, more than 60% of them were from outside Sydney, continuing a trend seen in recent days.
The Hunter New England health district had the most cases in the state with 83, followed by Murrumbidgee with 38.
Peta Rutherford, the CEO of the Rural Doctors’ Association of Australia, says the rise in regional cases comes as travel returns to the state.
She says despite high vaccination rates in NSW, regional hospitals could come under pressure quickly as they have more limited intensive care capacity.
“We only need a couple hundred of those unvaccinated people to get sick to overwhelm a regional health service,” she said.
“The intensive care capacity in our regional hospitals is generally under 10 beds. They still have the heart attacks, the car accidents, those presentations that will also require intensive care services.”
The cases in Murrumbidgee are part of a larger cluster surrounding the regional centre of Albury-Wodonga.
In addition to the 38 cases reported in the Murrumbidgee district on Wednesday, there were a further 46 new cases in Wodonga and six in Wangaratta.
Lucie Shanahan, an executive director at Albury Wodonga Health, said the majority of cases were appearing in young people aged between five and 30, with transmission at schools and through social interactions.
Testing sites in the region were forced to close early on Tuesday due to high demand.
Paul Craven, the medical controller for Covid in the Hunter area, said the district had seen numbers rise, plateau and then go up again this week.
Craven said most patients in the Hunter region were being treated in larger hospitals like Newcastle’s John Hunter Hospital, but there were increasing numbers in places like Armidale, Tamworth and Maitland
He said local health staff were working hard but the plans put in place earlier were working.
“Everyone’s working hard. We’ve spent well over 600 days preparing for this and processes seem to be working well.”
Craven expects cases numbers to rise further amid larger gatherings and more travel but the benefits of the vaccine will continue to be seen.
“The problem is the under 12s aren’t vaccinated yet so we’ll see more spread in that area.”