A healthcare worker prepares to conduct a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test on a patient at a testing facility in Melbourne, Australia, August 20, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]
CANBERRA - Australia's Acting Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Paul Kelly has described the number of healthcare staff who have caught COVID-19 as "unacceptable."
Kelly said on Wednesday afternoon that the federal government was seeking the "best expert advice" on how to protect workers in "high-risk settings" from the virus.
"It's unacceptable that so many people have been infected," he told reporters.
"We need to really understand that's why the case and what else can we be doing as a nation to protect our healthcare workers, our aged care workers, our disability workers who are on that frontline of caring for people with COVID, and therefore at higher risk."
At the peak of Victoria's second wave of infections earlier in August, healthcare workers accounted for about 11 percent of the state's active cases of COVID-19.
Kelly said that it was "absolutely fundamental" that health authorities identify the "main risk factor" responsible for the infections.
"And an important finding of this particular work is that 70 to 80 percent - according to the Victorian report at least - were in healthcare settings," he said.
"So, was that at the bedside? Was it in some other parts of the hospital? What else can we learn about those particular issues so that we can protect our healthcare workers?
"People should be able to go to work and feel safe from harm, and that's a really important component."
His comments came about one week after the Australian Medical Association (AMA) criticized the government for providing healthcare workers with "ill-fitting" face masks.
Omar Khorshid, president of the AMA, said that medical workers caring for COVID-19 patients had not been properly fitted for masks, leaving them exposed to the virus.
"It's a basic requirement for workplace safety that is not being observed in most states," Khorshid told the Guardian Australia.
"Many state health departments have completely dropped the ball on healthcare workers safety and appear to be wilfully ignoring repeated calls from clinicians to make sure that everybody who is likely to be the frontlines, and likely to be required to wear an N95 mask, is being properly fit-tested,
"It's something that must be achieved and it's appalling that it hasn't been done already."