Pharmacies bracing for ‘round two’

Stakeholders call for a pause in the easing of COVID-19 restrictions as the Guild wants pharmacy to be at the forefront of PPE distribution

With nine Victorian public housing towers in “hard lockdown” as a result of the state’s spike in COVID-19 infections – and a record 127 Victorian cases confirmed overnight – the Australian Medical Association has called for restrictions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus to remain.

A spokesperson for the Pharmacy Guild says the call is “understandable,” though it believes governments are making fully informed decisions, saying the profession is bracing itself as the pandemic worsens.

AMA president Dr Tony Bartone said the new outbreaks in Melbourne are a “stark reminder” that the pandemic is far from over.

“These new outbreaks send a strong signal that the other States should rethink the pace of easing of their COVID-19 restrictions until community transmission in Melbourne is under control to avoid the risk of a similar situation playing out in their own communities,” Dr Bartone said.

“We all want to get our lives back to normal, but it has to be a gradual and cautious process – and it must be with strict adherence to the medical advice and public health guidelines.

“As pubs and restaurants open up to more people, as the restart of elite and community sporting events picks up, and as the return to workplaces for thousands of workers accelerates nationally, the COVID-19 spikes in Melbourne are a warning for all Australians how quickly virus outbreaks can occur anywhere in the country.

“It is a stark reality check of how rapidly things can change. The disappointing reality is that the problems in Melbourne’s hotspots are directly linked to failures to follow established and successful public health guidelines.

“Against the expert medical advice, we have seen a range of failures relating to family and social events not following physical distance requirements, numerous quarantine breaches, and the irresponsible actions from elite sportsmen.

“Australians should not rush back to pre-COVID ways. We have to do more to protect ourselves and each other. The virus will be with us for many months. We must all continue to follow physical distance and hygiene protections, and not become complacent.”

Anthony Tassone, president of the Victorian branch of the Pharmacy Guild, said that “It’s understandable why the AMA is cautious about any further easing of restrictions related to the COVID pandemic”.

“The Guild are in regular and ongoing contact with the government at a State and Federal level and are confident that no decisions are made lightly and decisions are all being made with fully informed and fearless advice from their expert health and medical officers,” he said.

“The situation in Victoria is of obvious concern with pharmacies and pharmacists on the frontline bracing ourselves of ‘Round 2’ of another tough fight against this pandemic.”

Mr Tassone said that the Guild is also keeping a close eye on personal protective equipment (PPE) and its availability to pharmacists.

“Whilst there is a better supply of PPE currently than at the initial height of the pandemic, things can change very quickly in this environment particularly of the guidelines for wearing of masks by the public changes,” he said.

“Community pharmacy must be at the forefront of considerations of distribution of masks from the national stockpile should the situation to deteriorate any further.

“Whilst there has been anecdotal reports of some attempts of patients and members to public to stockpile medicines or purchase additional quantities, pharmacies have done an exemplary job of reassuring the community and explaining any existing restrictions in place for the good of the system and whole supply chain.”

Meanwhile the Victorian Government has said that it is working to help residents who were placed in “hard lockdown” over the weekend manage their medical needs, including those who need support for substance use.

“To help address medical needs, two field emergency management units have been established – staffed by medical workers, GPs and nurses, with pharmacotherapy and medicines available on site,” the Government said.

“This includes wrap-around mental health and drug and alcohol support from both peer-support workers and clinicians, who are undertaking active outreach.

“Residents who need to continue treatment and recovery during lockdown will have access to pharmacotherapy and support programs.”

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