Sydney hospitals erect emergency tents amid Delta surge

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Two major hospitals in Sydney’s west, the epicentre of Australia’s coronavirus outbreak, set up emergency outdoor tents on Thursday to help deal with an increase in patients as the city grapples with its worst flare-up in the pandemic.

Sydney, Australia’s largest city, is struggling to stamp out an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant, with daily infections hitting record levels even after two months under a hard lockdown.

A total of 919 cases were recorded on Wednesday, the biggest daily rise, with nearly 9,000 added in the last two weeks.

The makeshift unit in the emergency department for COVID-19 patients will help “to offload delays”, a Western Sydney Local Health District spokesperson told Reuters on Thursday.

Westmead and Blacktown hospitals have been grappling with a steady rise in COVID-19 patients, forcing officials to redirect ambulances to other hospitals, the Australian Paramedic Association (APA) said.

In a video posted on Twitter Wednesday night, APA said paramedics were given a choice to wait in their vehicles with COVID-positive patients or “wait outside in the freezing rain” due to the influx of patients.

A fast-moving Delta strain has taken the gloss off Australia’s early success against the virus that kept its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with some 46,700 cases and 986 deaths.

Besides Sydney, the country’s second-largest city, Melbourne, and capital, Canberra, are also in hard lockdowns, putting more than half of the country’s 25 million population under strict stay-at-home orders.

Cases in Victoria, home to Melbourne, surged to 80 on Thursday, up from 45 a day earlier.

The federal government is pushing ahead with the country’s reopening plans once vaccination rates reach 70%-80%, but some states have hinted they may delay given the rapid growth of cases in Sydney.

About 32% of people above 16 have been fully vaccinated while just over 54% have had at least one dose.