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SYDNEY, Australia: In many parts of the developed world, high rates of vaccination have enabled an easing of COVID-19 restrictions regarding the wearing of masks, travel and more. In Australia, meanwhile, an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant, combined with a slow vaccine rollout, has caused the country’s two largest cities to be locked down, creating major barriers to accessing dental services for many Australians.
In the state of New South Wales (NSW), a temporary stay-at-home public health order was instituted for the Greater Sydney region on 26 June when concerns arose over continued community transmission of the coronavirus. The order stipulates, among other things, that residents must not travel further than 10 km from their home unless undertaking essential work, cannot have visitors to their home and should only leave their home if they “have a reasonable excuse”.
The regional lockdown is currently scheduled to last until at least 30 July. However, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian emphasised in a press conference last Friday that the government would consider extending the lockdown and implementing additional restrictions if the outbreak was not brought under control by that date.
“That number of people being infectious in the community keeps going up,” she said.
“If we need to go harder, of course, we will. But we need to make sure that any measures that are put in place are going to hit the mark and are going to do the job we need them to do,” Berejiklian added.
After consulting with the state health department, Dr F. Shane Fryer, the Dental Council of NSW president, issued a message recommending that “dental practitioners within the Greater Sydney area should defer all non-essential treatment at this time”. Fryer added that dentists should also “only treat patients from within their locality”.
Victoria enters snap lockdown
In Victoria, a spike in COVID-19 infections resulting from employees of a Sydney furniture removal firm travelling to Victoria in the course of their work caused the state government to order a five-day lockdown for all residents from Friday, 16 July. Earlier today, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced that the lockdown would be extended, with further details to be provided tomorrow.
“We are running alongside this virus but we are not yet out in front of it,” he said at a press conference.
“If you think about it like a fire, we have a containment line and are making significant progress but it is not out yet,” Andrews added.
In light of the lockdown, the Victorian Department of Health issued updated guidance for dental practitioners. Under these guidelines, dental procedures can can be performed “by oral health professionals in the management of patients with urgent needs or care where failure to do so in a clinically appropriate timeframe will lead to adverse outcomes”.
Australia struggles to vaccinate population
In comparison with many other countries, Australia has fared remarkably well in controlling the spread of COVID-19 and has reported less than 1,000 deaths resulting from the virus to this point. In December 2020, the federal health minister announced that the government expected Australians to be “fully vaccinated by the end of October ” with an anticipated vaccine uptake of 80%. However, a combination of factors, including difficulties in securing vaccine supplies, has meant that presently just 10% of the population is fully vaccinated—the lowest rate among all 38 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
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