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Francesca Jones qualifies for Australian Open years after doctors ruled her out of tennis



Doctors told Francesca Jones when she was eight that she would never be able to play professional tennis.

The now-20-year-old Brit was born with the rare genetic condition, ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, leaving her with three fingers and a thumb on each hand and a total of seven toes.

Jones has had to endure multiple surgeries and, due to her dominant right foot only having three toes, has struggled with balance throughout her career.

“The doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to play tennis due to whatever disadvantages they thought I had,” Jones told the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

“That was kinda my decision … because you’ve said that, I’m now going to go and prove you wrong.”

Prove them wrong she did.

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Aged 10, Jones was accepted to the Sánchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, developing her game on the clay courts that nurtured the early career of her fellow countrywoman and 2016 Australian Open semi-finalist Johanna Konta, and former world number one Andy Murray.

On Wednesday, Jones beat the odds to qualify for the main draw of a grand slam tennis tournament for the first time.

Jones needed just over an hour to dispatch Lu Jai-Jing of China, 6-0, 6-1 in Dubai — her third win of the week — to secure her spot on Friday’s flight to Melbourne.

“I’m just playing the game with a different set of cards,” Jones told the BBC prior to the qualification tournament.

Those cards amount to a lighter racquet with a smaller grip.

Everything else is Jones’ own dogged determination.

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“My mental strength is one of my biggest strengths, if not my biggest strength,” Jones said.

“I do have that edge against my opponents purely because of the experiences that I’ve gone through.

“I use it [the condition] as a positive and advantage in many ways. I’m not playing out of revenge.

“I’m playing to have a positive impact on people who read my story, and I hope people can take the positives from it and build on it.”

Ranked 241 in the world, Jones is now guaranteed a $100,000 pay day, which will double her career earnings.

The Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne on February 8.



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Australian News

Romain Grosjean’s Bahrain Grand Prix crash described by Formula 1 doctors who helped save him


The Formula 1 medical car team who helped Romain Grosjean make a “miracle” escape from his fiery Bahrain Grand Prix crash have played down their heroics and said they would learn from it to do better if such a horrific accident happened again.

Ian Roberts, a doctor for motorsport governing body FIA, rushed towards the blaze in an open-face helmet to help Grosjean clamber out of the inferno, but said the Frenchman had already done “a fantastic job of extricating himself”.

Grosjean climbed out of the car before the medics could get to him but was helped over the guardrail and away to safety.

Roberts and medical car driver Alan van der Merwe were hailed as heroes after the accident but they said they were just doing their jobs.

“I’m no hero. Lots of people do seriously and proper heroic things. I did what was necessary, so no I don’t consider myself a hero,” the doctor said.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean climbs to safety away from his burning car
Race doctors said Grosjean did most of the work getting out of the car himself.(Twitter: @F1)

“But I’m very pleased for people’s kind words.”

Van der Merwe said there had already been discussions about changes that could be made for next weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix at the same circuit.

“Ian and I will do very small things which we think would have bought us some more time or some more margin. We’ve discussed that over breakfast this morning,” he said.

“Now we know what we need to do and what we need to improve on.”

‘I could see him behind a sheet of flame’

Roberts said the scene of the crash had looked like something out of a Hollywood movie when they arrived seconds after Grosjean’s Haas car had speared through the metal barriers, splitting in two and erupting in flames.

Volunteers try to put out a big fire that is consuming a Formula One car at the side of a track.
Blasts from the fire extinguisher gifted Grosjean precious seconds of respite from the fire.(AP/Pool: Brynn Lennon)

“I could see Romain in his car attempting to get out, the fire was well going and I could see him behind essentially a sheet of flame, almost furnace-like,” he said.

A marshal had run across the track with an extinguisher and that was aimed at Grosjean to push the flames back for precious seconds.

As Grosjean appeared at the top of the barrier, Roberts could reach in and grab hold of him.

“I pulled him across over to our car but he couldn’t actually see anything, the tear-offs [strips across the helmet visor] had melted and his visor appeared to be pretty opaque.”

Romain Grosjean smiles while holding up his hands, which are both covered in bangages
Grosjean suffered burns to his hands but escaped remarkably unscathed.(Twitter: Haas F1 Team)

Grosjean, whose last recorded speed before hitting the barrier was 221kph, had burns to the back of his hands but was otherwise unscathed. He is expected to remain in hospital until Tuesday and will not race next weekend.

Van der Merwe said being called a hero was “slightly embarrassing”.

“I think we performed well. I think we can perform better next time,” he said.

“It’s a really positive story, it’s really good for Formula 1. It validates that we’re doing the right thing and that I think we should keep doing what we’re doing, which is to try and improve things.”

The guardrail shouldn’t fail and the car shouldn’t catch fire: Vettel

Grosjean’s fellow drivers are asking questions about how it was allowed to happen at all.

The sport has boosted safety standards massively over the decades, with Grosjean praising his car’s halo head protection device for saving his life, but four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel wants to know how the frightening scene occurred.

A close-up of Romain Grosjean's Formula One car, including the protective halo around his head.
Modern F1 cars are full of safety features that have made scenes like Grosjean’s crash a rarity.(AP/Pool: Giuseppe Cacace)

“The guardrail is not supposed to fail like that,” the Ferrari star, who like Grosjean is a director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, told Sky Sports.

“It’s good that the cars are safer than they used to be in the past, but the guardrail shouldn’t fail and the car shouldn’t catch fire in that fashion.

The governing FIA said it would launch a complete investigation into the accident, which could take “weeks, if not months”.

It will include a look at why the barrier split and the car caught fire.

“That process will continue,” FIA race director Michael Masi said.

“You learn each and every time, something small, something large. But the process of learning is ongoing.”

Reuters



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Local News - Victoria

Doctors plead for overhaul of ‘inferior’ Victorian health system


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“Victoria has paid the price this year for not having adequate public health resourcing. It’s been inadequate and that’s clear to every Victorian. There was a very regrettable delay when cases started to emerge in June during the second wave and the government’s ability to get on top of that.”

While Victoria endured extensive and tough lockdowns, NSW kept its economy relatively open despite a continuous flow of COVID-19 cases.

Professor Rait said the pandemic had exposed weaknesses in Victoria’s public-health capabilities, with preventive health interventions often struggling to get funding over what were seen as more urgent issues, such as new hospital wards and beds.

The Age reported in July that while NSW had invested $1.6 billion into public health in last year’s budget; Victoria allocated a little under $600 million.

At the moment the state relies on the chronically under-funded Melbourne-based VicHealth service rather than streamlined public-health units across the state, Professor Rait said.

“The state’s public healthcare models is woefully under-resourced,” Professor Rait said. “There is an enormous disparity between what we spend on acute health and prevention. Under the stress of a pandemic, partially our emergency departments, public healthcare system and some of our hospitals were found to be deficient.”

Professor Rait also suspects that COVID-19 clusters which spread rapidly in Victoria during the second wave, including in public housings towers and aged care, could have been handled better had localised public-health units worked closely with general practitioners and councils.

“Properly structured localised units would, for example, have understood the complex social structures and language barriers in the public towers,” he said. “They would have allowed the government to engage more with local communities and manage it a little bit less traumatically.”

“They also could have monitored infection-control measures in aged care homes far more closely and between pandemics the focus could be on the more mundane matters of disease prevention.”

The AMA’s push has the support of Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Terry Slevin, who warned a “chronic disease tsunami was still coming at us”.

“The COVID crisis in Victoria has certainly highlighted the poor state of public-health infrastructure in the Department of Health and Human Services there, and I think there is widespread acknowledgement that serious changes are needed to strengthen this infrastructure so that it will better weather further outbreaks and other public health crises in future,” Professor Slevin said.

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The plea comes as lifesaving cancer screening tests plummeted in Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, fuelling fears of a surge in delayed diagnoses.

The Age has also previously revealed that some Victorians were having heart attacks at home instead of going to emergency departments amid fears they would overburden hospitals, while others who were chronically ill avoided potentially life-saving pathology tests.

The PHAA is calling for a public-health officer training program to recruit medical and non-medical staff over three years to create a public-health workforce that could lead state efforts during pandemics and other public-health crises. NSW already has such a program.

“Let’s prevent the next crisis before it occurs,” Professor Slevin said.

Professor Rait also called for a greater investment in the state’s healthcare watchdog, labelling Safer Care Victoria a “toothless lion” due to chronic underfunding when compared to its NSW counterpart.

“I don’t think it’s achieved its full potential and we need to look at something more akin to the NSW’s clinical excellence commission which is about four times the size.”

A DHHS spokeswoman did not comment on whether the government was considering investing in a NSW-style public health system, but she said the government had already invested $1.9 billion in the health system in response to the pandemic.

“The government is investing in major health projects across the state as part of its $7 billion health infrastructure build program, ensuring Victorians get the very best care, when they need it most,” she said. “We will have more to say in Tuesday’s budget.”

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Local News - Victoria

Doctors concerned people with stroke are staying away from hospital


Within minutes she was being wheeled through the corridors connecting St Vincent’s private and public hospitals to the emergency department. Her left side had stopped working and she couldn’t remember her husband’s full mobile phone number.

Her stroke on the morning of February 21 was the biggest St Vincent’s had treated up to that point in the year.

“In the weeks after it was really hard to come to terms with,” said Dr Spargo, who has since “fundamentally” recovered.

“Maybe if I was 74. But I’m 54. And not just 54, but in the best health I’ve been in in years. There’s no rhyme or reason, it’s just one of those things that happens.”

Dr Spargo is fortunate those around her in the operating theatre knew the signs of stroke.

Data shows fewer Australians are presenting at hospitals for stroke during the pandemic and Dr Spargo has joined other professionals in pleading for people to seek treatment even for the mildest symptoms.

“The aim is recognise the signs and treat it as early possible,” Dr Spargo said. “The three elements in my excellent recovery were the professor calling it quickly, going to a very good stroke unit and getting treatment in a timely manner.”

A May study by the Australian Stroke Clinical Registry found about half of the 54 hospitals surveyed reported reduced presentations, particularly for mild stroke.

Almost one in three reported a longer time from stroke onset to presentation.

Stroke Foundation chief executive Sharon McGowan said ambulance colleagues had reported a nationwide fall in emergency calls of about 20 per cent across since the pandemic began.

“Specifically for stroke, they saw a five per cent drop,” she said.

Fear of catching COVID-19 is believed to be a key factor behind the figures.

“Someone who develops, for example, speech disturbance or limb disturbance and then gets better might think ‘well, it’s a bit worrying but I really don’t want to go to the hospital’,” said Professor Stephen Davis, director of the Melbourne Brain Centre at Royal Melbourne Hospital.

“The big risk then is that they have a much bigger and more devastating stroke days or weeks after the first event.”

Dr Cheryl Carcel, senior research fellow and neurologist at Sydney’s George Institute for Global Health, said people living or working alone during lockdown might also miss out on early treatment because there were no people around to recognise the signs.

Cerebrovascular disease, which includes stroke, is in the top five causes of death in Australia.

The doctors say people should remember the FAST test: Face (drooping mouth), Arms (inability to raise them), Speech (slurred) and Time (call Triple 0 immediately at any of these symptoms).

Dr Spargo, who also assists in gastrointestinal and breast cancer operations, said it wasn’t only strokes people were failing to get treatment for in the age of COVID-19.

“They’re staying at home to grow their cancers. We’ve seen that in the surgery list,” she said.

Dr Carcel said international research showed above average deaths not attributable to COVID-19.

“People have postulated these excess deaths are due to heart disease and stroke. It’s people not getting the treatment, not getting to hospital,” she said. “In another study they also found there are more non-hospital cardiac arrests. People are dying from heart attacks outside of hospital.”

The message from the doctors is for people not to delay potentially life-saving treatment.

“Call triple 0 if you have [stroke] symptoms and you will be looked after just as well as before the COVID crisis,” Professor Davis said.

Recognising signs of stroke
The FAST test is an easy way to remember and recognise the signs of stroke. FAST stands for Face,
Arms, Speech and Time. Using the FAST test involves asking these simple questions:

Face – check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
Arms – can they lift both arms?
Speech – is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
Time is critical – if you see any of these signs, call 000.

Source: Stroke Foundation

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Andrews yields on emergency powers as doctors call for royal commission into ‘slow car crash’


As Victoria reported another 24 lives lost to the virus on Wednesday and 149 new cases, travel giant Flight Centre joined the backlash against the government’s proposal to extend its state of emergency powers.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison struck a more conciliatory tone towards Premier Daniel Andrews after a stinging attack on Victoria’s performance in the pandemic the previous day.

The Premier shrugged off Mr Morrison’s comments about “unacceptable failures” by the Victorian government, with Mr Andrews saying he spoke and exchanged messages regularly with the Prime Minister.

In other developments on Wednesday, Victoria Police revealed it was investigating security firms hired for the state’s ill-fated hotel quarantine effort, while Emergency Services Commissioner Andrew Crisp insisted he did not receive an offer of Australian Defence Force help when the program was established.

Premier Daniel Andrews has endured a storm of criticism since announcing on Monday that he wanted a 12-month extension of Victoria’s state of emergency powers, which he says are needed to get through the prolonged crisis and would put the state in line with arrangements in other states, which are in effect open-ended.

But a year-long extension was a step too far for upper house crossbench MPs who have pledged to vote with the Coalition when Parliament returns next week and sink the government’s plans.

After key crossbench MP Fiona Patten drafted a compromise plan, based on the idea of a committee of predominantly non-Labor MPs to scrutinise the government’s pandemic response, Ms Mikakos put forward a counter-proposal on Wednesday.

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Sources with knowledge of the talks confirmed that Ms Mikakos suggested a six-month extension, with the government to produce the health advice each time it renewed its state of emergency powers every four weeks.

The minister, who needs four crossbench votes to pass the legislation, also offered to extend the term of the parliamentary committee, which has majority Labor membership, examining the government’s COVID-19 response.

Crossbenchers who spoke to The Age on Wednesday were cool on the government’s revised plan and the Coalition’s leader in the upper house, David Davis, was in no mood for compromise, saying he and his colleagues had always supported a pandemic oversight committee but it was no substitute for regular parliamentary sittings.

“We are very opposed to this government’s shutdown of Parliament and its avoidance of scrutiny,” Mr Davis said.

The AMA’s submission to the state parliamentary inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic contains a lengthy list of accusations by AMA state president Julian Rait of government failures and mismanagement.

Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait

Australian Medical Association Victorian president Julian Rait

Dr Rait, who confirmed his support for the extension of the government’s emergency powers, said the decision to allow the Black Lives Matter rally in Melbourne in March was among the government’s “missteps”.

He also cited hotel quarantine, poor communications of health messages to some groups, problems with contact tracing, mixed messages on isolation practices, and the management of the St Basil’s care home COVID-19 cluster, which has so far claimed more than 30 lives.

Dr Rait also criticised the structure of Victoria’s health services, saying general practitioners and the AMA itself had been excluded from the pandemic response and that the government had neither been accountable nor transparent during the pandemic.

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In his submission, Dr Rait wrote that “a culture of blame and finger pointing is unhelpful” but that a royal commission into Victoria’s response was required.

“This type of inquiry will be necessary in order to learn and apply lessons learned from this pandemic and build a sustainable and resilient workforce and health system for the future,” Dr Rait wrote.

Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister said he had a constructive relationship with the Premier and that he had expressed his concern to Mr Andrews about his plans to extend the emergency powers.

“I work constructively with the Victorian Premier, but where there are issues that need to be raised then I’ll of course raise them with him and I’ve done so consistently and that’s done in the spirit of the partnership that is necessary to work through a crisis,” Mr Morrison said.

“You don’t agree on everything, but you certainly discuss everything.”

Mr Andrews said: “We talk often, we send messages to each other often.

“As he said today, we don’t necessarily agree on every matter… There are a lot of things on his plate that I don’t have to deal with.”

Flight Centre CEO Graham Turner, whose company has been devastated by border closures and lockdowns, said extending the state of emergency would be a huge blow to confidence in the Victorian economy and risked prolonging what he said was the state’s misguided approach to containing the virus.

“If you want to suppress this virus it’s about testing and contact tracing and I think that’s where Victoria has gone wrong and until they get that right it’s just causing economic havoc for no reason,” said Mr Turner, a former veterinary surgeon.

“It’s the testing, the contract tracing and the subsequent isolation that will make the difference, not lockdowns or states of emergency.”

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Not ‘heroes’ nor martyrs, doctors’ mental health also needs support


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“In the same way this pandemic has brought up grief, distress and the experience of isolation for other members of the community, [healthcare workers] are also going through that ourselves. It’s compounded for some working in emergency departments and intensive care, who are also managing the disability and death of people as a result of COVID-19.”

More than 15 per cent of Victoria’s new coronavirus infections are among healthcare workers, according to figures released this week, and 1800 were reportedly infected as of August 8. When the Black Dog Institute released an app last week to help medical workers connect with mental health support it was downloaded 1200 times in a few days.

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Many in the health sector are loath to reach out, according to the Black Dog Institute’s chief psychiatrist, Associate Professor Sam Harvey, who hopes giving health workers access to a way to do it discreetly will help.

“Health workers are uniquely bad at asking for help when they need it. It’s sort of ingrained in the training: illness is something that happens to other people not us,” says Dr Harvey, who also leads the Workplace Mental Health Research Program at the UNSW School of Psychiatry.

“We know lots of healthcare workers are really struggling at the moment, we know from the literature coming out of places where COVID has been surging for longer that it puts an awful lot of strain on them and obviously an awful lot have mental health symptoms of feeling overwhelmed.

“Evidence suggests one in 10 end up with longer-term mental health conditions from working on the front line in a pandemic,” Dr Harvey said.

The thing that keeps you going is the people you work with, these amazing people who keep turning up.

Dr Simon Judkins, Austin Hospital

Dr Simon Judkins, acting director of the Austin Hospital, said doctors had the advantage of at least “getting out of the house and going to work”, but that “right now is a particularly stressful point”.

“It’s dark when you leave for work and dark when you get home and you spend your day dressed in plastic … People are getting worn out, some people are getting COVID infections contracted in the work environment, there is the never-ending angst.

“The thing that keeps you going is the people you work with, these amazing people who keep turning up,” he said.

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He said Black Dog’s The Essential Network (or TEN) app, which was developed by healthcare professionals to help others obtain quick access to evidence-based resources and specialists, and which the organisation believes could be adapted for the wider community, would make it easier for doctors to get help as it removes the perceived stigma of accessing care at work.

Dr Kinder says she would definitely download the Black Dog app: “One of the positives I’ve seen in the pandemic is at least at the junior level there’s a lot of collegiality and looking out for peers and colleagues in the health sector, and a lot of open and frank discussion around the psychological impacts … Increasing opportunities to find resources is really important.”

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Doctors demand urgent risk checks at nursing homes


Premier Daniel Andrews announced an end to all but the most urgent elective surgeries in a bid to free up medical personnel to deal with the influx of elderly patients.

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Nurses employed by the state government have been deployed to take over care of residents living in troubled facilities, he confirmed, in a national response co-ordinated out of the State Control Centre.

“Where there is no confidence in infection control, where there is no confidence that care can be provided to a suitable standard, then we will do everything we can to move those residents out,” he said of the his government’s intervention.

Almost 40 people have died in Victoria in outbreaks linked to aged care – with many homes overwhelmed with infections in staff and residents. The Estia Aged Care Facility in Ardeer had 88 reported cases on Tuesday. There were 86 cases at St Basil’s, 82 at Epping Gardens Aged Care and 76 cases at the Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth.

The federal government is the primary funder and regulator of aged care in Australia, while the state government runs a small proportion of facilities in Victoria. Under its coronavirus plan, the state government provides advice to all residential aged care facilities in the state.

Dr Sarah Whitelaw, the AMA’s emergency representative, said the AMA and other speciality groups had been asking the Victorian Health Department for months to arrange risk assessments for all aged care centres as part of its plan to prevent and manage coronavirus cases.

“I know that the advice was given, but it wasn’t enacted,” she said.

A Victorian Health Department spokeswoman said all state-run residential aged care services participated in an assessment by the department in March. However, she said assessments of private and non-profit aged care residential services were the responsibility of the Commonwealth.

There are 50,000 aged care beds in Victoria and the state government is responsible for only 5609 of them, according to its coronavirus plan for the residential aged care sector.

“It is complex, and significant responsibility is held by the federal government, but that doesn’t change the responsibility for Victoria to have a co-ordinated state plan, including risk assessments for all centres,” Dr Whitelaw said.

ADF troops help health workers at Epping Gardens Aged Care on Tuesday.

ADF troops help health workers at Epping Gardens Aged Care on Tuesday.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Risk assessments would ensure centres had the infrastructure to safely isolate residents, such as single rooms and separate bathrooms, and help identify places where outbreaks would be disastrous, Dr Whitelaw said.

“If implemented earlier, I believe some of the deaths could have been avoided,” she said.

“I’m not trying to denigrate the Victorian Department of Health. But it is clear that they have lacked the operational capacity to address all of the issues that have been predicted.”

Dr Whitelaw said the state’s plan relied heavily on the use of in-reach teams, groups of nurses and doctors that helped provide medical care to residents in the nursing home to avoid unnecessary hospital stays. But she said their capacity differed from region to region and they were not usually available 24/7.

Aged and Community Services Australia chief executive Pat Sparrow said she strongly supported the AMA’s calls for individual risk assessments at aged care homes.

“From the moment restrictions were eased we said we were concerned aged care would become the new front line,” Ms Sparrow said. “It is clear we haven’t got the support that was needed.

“We have seen time and time again that health and aged care don’t interface well, but they should. We need more support from [the] public health [sector] because we are not hospitals.”

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A Victorian Aged Care Response Centre was established by the federal government on Saturday in a plan to co-ordinate state and federal responses to the aged care clusters.

As part of that response, Dr Whitelaw said the AMA would like to see facilities outside hospitals repurposed to care for aged care residents, which would free up beds in hospitals to allow more elective surgery to resume.

Victorian AMA president Julian Rait warned thousands of aged care residents may soon need hospital treatment and it was not possible for hospitals to absorb them all.

“It’s very disruptive to move people out of their home into a hospital. It will be very disorienting and distressing for many,” Associate Professor Rait said.

“You wouldn’t really do that at the drop of a hat, but equally if you thought that infections were uncontrolled in a particular centre, you’d have no option but to do that.”

The aged care crisis became personal for politicians on Tuesday when Premier Daniel Andrews invoked his own mother when criticising standards in some privately run facilities. “Some of the stories we’ve seen are unacceptable and I wouldn’t want my mum in some of those places,” he said.

When asked to respond to comments about those facilities, which are overseen by the Commonwealth, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt choked back tears as he spoke of his father’s final years in a private aged care home and said he would not “hear a word against” aged care nurses.

“I cannot imagine better care that my family and my father could have got, and I speak, I think, for hundreds of thousands of families around the country,” Mr Hunt said.

Mr Hunt said staff at a Bupa aged care home, which The Age and Sydney Morning Herald have confirmed as Edithvale in Melbourne’s south-east, spent hours persuading Victorian health officials to allow nine residents infected with coronavirus to be admitted to hospital over the weekend.

Hinting at her frustration over the weekend’s delays, clinical services director of Bupa Aged Care Maryann Curry said she believed every aged care resident with COVID-19 should be hospitalised to reduce risk to themselves and fellow residents.

Revealing that aged care residents constituted about 7 per cent of Victoria’s new cases since July 1, Mr Hunt announced an AUSMAT emergency, multi-disciplinary health team – “the SAS of the medical world” – would be sent to Melbourne to assist in aged care.

More than 170 residents have been moved out of the Victorian aged care facilities hit by COVID-19 outbreaks, with more transfers planned in coming days.

Mr Andrews said he couldn’t put a number on how many would be moved to hospitals, but it would be a “massive exercise”.

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Doctors call for virus elimination strategy in Victoria as stage four restrictions loom


On Friday, 122 Victorians with the virus were in hospital, including 31 in intensive care.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said: ‘‘This is a serious situation. We are in the fight of our lives.’’

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Cases have now been reported in 32 nursing homes and at least eight clusters of the illness have emerged in hospitals and other healthcare sites.

Up to 800 healthcare workers have either been diagnosed with the illness or are in isolation as a close contact, according to one union.

Both Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said stage four restrictions were being considered with “everything on the table”.

Victorians in regional areas on Friday were asked to join the rest of the state in wearing face masks, and non-essential dental work has been postponed in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus.

Mr Andrews flagged a stricter lockdown if the daily case-load figures did not improve.

“If the data shows the strategy is not being as effective as quickly as we would like then we may need to go to new rules,” Mr Andrews said.

The record number of new cases comes just 24 hours after the state recorded its previous high of 317 cases on Thursday and a week after metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire were placed under stage three lockdown restrictions.

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The deaths of a man in his 80s, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s brought the state’s death toll to 32 and Professor Sutton warned on Friday that more lives would be lost.

“We have not turned the corner here,” the Chief Health Officer said.

“There will be dozens of individuals who will require hospitalisation from these 428 people.

“Tragically there will be several who require intensive care support and a number of people will die, so it has to turn around.”

On Friday, 122 Victorians with the virus were in hospital, including 31 in intensive care.

“This is a serious situation. We are in the fight of our lives,” Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said.

Restrictions are not set to change in regional Victoria, where 42 new cases have emerged since July 1. But Victorians in the regions have been advised to wear face masks in places such as supermarkets, shops, public transport and taxis where they cannot maintain social distancing.

Ms Mikakos also suspended non-urgent public dental procedures in the lockdown zones, including cleaning, fillings and some specialist care.

Emergency and urgent dental care would be available at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, and community dental services around the state.

In an article for the Medical Journal of Australia, a group of physicians led by epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely urged the state government to impose a six-week lockdown, with the aim of eliminating community transmission of the virus in Victoria.

The doctors argue the nation faces a two-speed economic and social recovery from the first wave of the pandemic, with Victoria lagging as it remains in partial lockdown trying to contain its second surge outbreaks.

Professor Blakely and his colleagues argue for a ‘‘going hard’’ strategy, saying it would not be too far advanced of the current plan.

“Given the State is in lock-down for six-weeks there is only a marginal cost of ‘going hard’ with a rigorous public health response that increases the probability of achieving elimination,” the group wrote.

The doctors believe that a clear goal of elimination of community spread of the virus and the prospect of a return to near normality would unite the community behind the effort and reduce the calls for an early end to the lockdown.

But there would be a price to pay, with all schools closed as well as all shops – except chemists and supermarkets – massively increased use of masks and only 20 per cent of the workforce to have “essential worker” status.

The state and federal government remain committed to the strategy known as “aggressive suppression” of the spread of the virus with the Commonwealth repeatedly rejecting the elimination strategy as unrealistic.

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Melbourne lockdown sparks doctors’ call for COVID-19 testing at checkpoints


He said areas around Melbourne should be under “high levels of surveillance” and drive-through testing sites should be placed at the checkpoints bordering regional Victoria.

“You can never do too much testing,” he said. “In order to prevent it leaking from Melbourne, we’re going to have to think carefully about further strategies.”

Soldiers assist police at a checkpoint near Geelong.

Soldiers assist police at a checkpoint near Geelong. Credit:Jason South

Coronavirus infections remain low in regional Victoria, but cases are spreading to more communities. Testing at checkpoints would allow people in cars to be swabbed while waiting to pass through.

But Associate Professor Rait said it should not be mandatory.

“It’s better to have the co-operation of the community and get them to see the worth of what’s required.”

Asked if there were plans to set up testing at checkpoints around Melbourne, Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said there were already many testing spots in regional Victoria.

“I would encourage regional areas to have an awareness that they also need to test in exactly the same way if they’ve got compatible symptoms of coronavirus,” he said.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says authorities were expecting "some seeding of regional areas".

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says authorities were expecting “some seeding of regional areas”.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

Professor Sutton said health authorities were identifying cases in regional Victoria and many had links back to Melbourne.

“That’s not unexpected and we knew that there would be some seeding of regional areas. We need to follow those cases.

“That will be more manageable by virtue of the numbers, but we are particularly focused on them so that we can make sure there isn’t community transmission that gets established in any regional area of Victoria.”

Last week Professor Sutton said the situation in Geelong was being reviewed daily and he urged its residents to take extra precautions, particularly if travelling to coronavirus hotspots in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Greater Geelong has the highest number of cases in regional Victoria, with five active infections, while Greater Bendigo has three.

Infections have been spreading, with South Gippsland recording a single positive case on Saturday. By Sunday Baw Baw had three active cases and Greater Shepparton increased from one to two cases.

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Bass Coast recorded two new cases on Sunday, while Warrnambool, Swan Hill, Campaspe, Macedon Ranges and Moorabool Shire each had a single new case.

On Saturday Coles revealed a worker at a supermarket in Woodend was self-isolating after testing positive.

The company said the store had been cleared to trade but several staff members who were close contacts of the positive case had been asked to self-isolate.

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Anastasia Vasilyeva is risking all to stop Russia’s coronavirus doctors dying. The state is trying to thwart her


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June 02, 2020 04:52:45

Out of the pandemic that’s hit Russia, through a fog of government disinformation and failure, a stunning new weapon has emerged. And she is taking on President Putin.

As Anastasia Vasilyeva works from a laptop on the kitchen table of her fourth-floor Moscow apartment, she’s never far from danger.

The young doctor heads a medical trade union that’s accused Vladimir Putin of lying about coronavirus. It’s made the single mother-of-two an unlikely enemy of the state.

Through the union’s website and social media channels, she’s exposed false government assurances that the health system is coping and frontline health workers are well protected from the rampantly infectious virus.

“The situation is not under control,” says Dr Vasilyeva. “In some hospitals, patients are dying without any help.

“The state takes care of the President to avoid him getting sick. But why doesn’t the state want to take care of a doctor to avoid him getting sick?”

Authorities have reacted with fury to her criticism, having her arrested and branding her a crook and a liar on pro-Kremlin media. But she says there is only one way the Russian government can silence her.

“They can only kill me but they have no chance to shut me down,” she says.

A ‘fake news’ pandemic

Months ago, as coronavirus started to spread around the world, the Kremlin insisted Russia would be fine. President Putin dismissed reports of an epidemic as “fake news” spread by foreign enemies.

He even announced a national referendum for April 22 to pass constitutional changes that would allow him to stay in power until 2036.

Dr Vasilyeva was horrified, accusing Putin of putting political ambition ahead of people’s safety.

“The danger was clear back in February,” she says. “And it was clear that our healthcare system is not ready.”

She’s in touch with doctors across Russia, raising funds for personal protective equipment (PPE) — the masks, gloves and equipment they need for protection as they treat their desperately ill COVID-19 patients.

At night, Dr Vasilyeva edits the website and social media accounts of the Alliance of Doctors, a medical trade union she founded. One minute she’s appealing for more government help, the next she’s exposing the dire state of many of Russia’s public hospitals.

In one video critical of health system cuts, Dr Vasilyeva walks through an abandoned hospital: dilapidated, run-down and now empty in the middle of a crisis.

“If you think I’m in a war zone, in Syria or Somalia, then you are mistaken,” she says.

“I’m in Hospital No.6 in the very centre of Moscow.

“Six years ago, it was closed as unprofitable, doctors were reduced, patients were sent to other facilities.”

When coronavirus infections began mounting in March, Putin switched tack, acknowledging the danger but insisting Russian hospitals were well prepared to deal with an epidemic.

“They have all they need and effectively use the available equipment and means,” he said, after visiting a COVID ward in a yellow hazmat suit and full-face oxygen mask.

But a different story was emerging from within the hospitals.

Later that month, as the virus took hold, doctors and nurses began posting videos about the stress they were under.

In Dagestan, sick nurses were filmed being housed in a laundry room while they waited to be tested for the virus. At a hospital in Saint Petersburg, patients could be seen spilling out into the corridors and staff pleading for protective equipment on social media.

State media responded by showing hospital management calling the staff’s claims fiction. Dr Vasilyeva’s union featured their pleas and videos on its website and social media accounts.

“At each conference the management claims that we do have personal protective equipment, that we have everything we need, that everything will be fine, that we are ready for anything,” says one anaesthetist from Volgograd in a video published by the Alliance of Doctors.

“This is a lie. We are not ready.”

As doctors across Russia contacted Dr Vasilyeva to say they didn’t even have masks or gloves, she decided to take action. Her union set up a fund-raising appeal to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers and deliver them directly to hospitals.

Taking much-needed PPE to frontline medical workers during a global health crisis might seem like a plan few could oppose. Dr Vasilyeva would soon feel just how determined the Russian state was to stop her.

Anastasia Vasilyeva has appeared in many videos since becoming one of Russia’s most prominent advocates for change in the country’s health system. She’s a photogenic and savvy promoter for her doctor’s union.

But there’s one video that’s still too painful for her to watch.

“It hurts me for our country — not for myself — that such a horror could happen,” she says.

On April 2, Dr Vasilyeva and her colleagues drove out from Moscow with 500 masks and boxes of gloves, disinfectant and hazmat suits.

Halfway to their destination — a provincial hospital in the town of Okulovka — they were stopped by police and accused of violating the Novgorod region’s self-isolation rules during the lockdown.

Dr Vasilyeva insists they all had documents allowing them to travel. She eventually met with grateful doctors, who found her at a police station to pick up the delivery.

But Russian authorities weren’t finished with the doctor. That night she was separated from her colleagues and cornered by police.

The moment Dr Vasilyeva was arrested has been viewed over half a million times online, but she still finds it hard to watch.

She has no memory of losing consciousness and collapsing on the pavement.

“They were dragging me and I remember it got dark. I opened my eyes and I was in the car.”

“I can’t look at this situation.”

She was held overnight in a cell without access to paramedics or a lawyer, in seeming contravention of Russian law.

“They had an order to shut me down,” she says. “They don’t want us to show that medical workers have no PPE.”

An accidental activist

Dr Vasilyeva, an ophthalmologist, might have simply continued treating people with eye conditions but for a chance meeting with one of Russia’s most famous political figures — opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

“Three years ago, honestly, I was not interested in politics at all, I thought Putin was a great president. I did not know who Navalny was.”

The controversial politician sought her professional treatment after he was attacked with a painful antiseptic thrown in his face.

But a year later, with mass sackings of medical staff at the eye hospital, she turned to Navalny for help. He advised her on strategies to fight the cutbacks and provided free office space for her nascent Alliance of Doctors. But in the Kremlin’s eyes, she was turned into a public enemy.

While nominally a democracy, any real threat to Putin’s authority is viewed as traitorous.

State television and Putin’s media allies are demonising Dr Vasilyeva across Russia. Vladimir Solovyov hosts a national television program with two functions — praising Putin and attacking his critics. In a recent rant on his YouTube show, he directly targeted Dr Vasilyeva.

His delivery turns to fanboy when he co-hosts his show with Russia’s official spokesman on coronavirus, Dr Alexander Myasnikov, who assures the audience COVID is little worse than flu.

“Please give the doctor likes,” Solovyov orders the audience. “There are only 717 likes. How dare you!”

Often when Dr Vasilyeva goes online now, an unsolicited advertisement pops up called “Nine Fakes of Anastasia Vasilyeva.”

“Navalny’s personal ophthalmologist actively creates and distributes fakes amid the pandemic,” it claims.

It’s been confronting for Dr Vasilyeva’s 14-year-old daughter Katya to see the attacks on her mother.

“I understand that she is doing the right thing, she’s helping people as much as she can,” says Katya.

Dr Vasilyeva shares the care of her daughter and 12-year-old son Alexei with her ex-husband, a doctor now working 12-hour shifts in a coronavirus ward.

She admits the daily battles are taking a toll.

“I’m really very tired with this, with the crying of medical workers and just trying to resolve their problems. It’s really very hard,” says Dr Vasilyeva.

“I don’t know if she sleeps at all,” says Katya. “There are a lot of people calling in despair and saying they don’t know what to do and my mother is trying to help everyone. I think that is very commendable and very cool.”

At times Dr Vasilyeva’s charity must be given covertly, evoking memories of the Cold War and its bevvy of spies.

A Monday morning PPE delivery takes place on a Moscow street rather than at the hospital’s front door. A driver sent by the hospital to collect the much-needed supplies watches nervously as boxes of protective equipment are loaded into his car.

Fear of the authorities has forced the delivery to take place out here but they don’t escape watchful eyes. A man in a black coat pokes a smartphone through the bars of an iron fence, filming the transfer before walking away.

Dr Vasilyeva presses on. In the absence of any tally of health worker deaths, the Alliance of Doctors believes that more than 200 medical workers have died in the line of duty.

As Russia’s lockdown eases, the official virus statistics are being questioned internationally. Russia claims over 400,000 infections but is reporting fewer than 5,000 deaths — less than one eighth of the world average.

Despite the threats and harassment, the young doctor plans to keep up her deliveries and fight for a better health system. And she’ll keep taking on the Russian strongman.

“Sometimes it seems so horrible I’m not able to handle it,” Dr Vasilyeva says.

“But on the other hand, I understand if not me, then who? Who would do this? If I give up, everything would collapse.”

Watch The Doctor vs The President on Foreign Correspondent, tonight at 8pm on ABC TV, iview and streaming live on Facebook and YouTube.

Credits

  • Reporter: Eric Campbell
  • Digital Producer: Matt Henry
  • Photography: Arthur Bondar
  • Russia producers: Eva Hartog and Anastasia Tenisheva

Topics:

covid-19,

healthcare-facilities,

health-policy,

doctors-and-medical-professionals,

health,

epidemics-and-pandemics,

world-politics,

russian-federation



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