A regional South Australian GP has warned country areas are less protected than Adelaide and health services may not cope with a COVID-19 outbreak.

Key points:

  • An Eyre Peninsula GP is concerned about lower vaccination rates in regional SA
  • SA regional health staff shortages have been a problem for months
  • The doctor fears regional areas will not cope if there is a COVID outbreak once the border reopens 

This week, the state government announced it would reopen South Australia’s borders to people who were fully vaccinated from November 23.

It projects 80 per cent of South Australians will be fully vaccinated by that date.

However, Wudinna GP Scott Lewis has raised concerns over disproportionate COVID vaccination rates in the regions compared with the city.

“Even though the overall rate statewide that’s been trumpeted is going to be over 80 per cent, we are absolutely going to have these [areas] where the vaccine rollout hasn’t had the take-up,” Dr Lewis said.

According to state government vaccine statistics, 80 per cent of eligible people in the Upper Eyre Peninsula region had received their first dose, and 57 per cent their second dose, by the end of last week.

Wudinna GP Scott Lewis says regional hospitals will not cope if there is a sudden rise in COVID cases.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Lucy Robinson)

The vaccination rate in some communities outside Wudinna was much lower. In Minnipa, Cungena and Poochera, only 71 per cent of residents had received a first dose, and 60 per cent their second jab.

“We are going to see a lot of our areas with a lot lower rates of vaccination and those are going to be the ones a lot more at risk when the borders open at the end of the year,” Dr Lewis said.

‘We barely have enough staff’ 

Dr Lewis said the frequent listing of exposure sites on major freight routes, including Wudinna and Port Augusta, because of COVID-positive truck drivers, highlighted the danger that would be posed to regional areas once borders reopened.

Dr Lewis is also concerned for smaller communities and their ability to staff essential services, such as supermarkets, in the event of one or more employees catching COVID and having to isolate.

He said he had heard of health and emergency service staff in Port Augusta projecting that if there were to be an outbreak locally, based on who interacts on a daily basis, up to 75 per cent of frontline workers could be in isolation after just three days.

“Most of our hospitals have staffing issues.”

Staff assured plans are in place

A letter sent to health workers outlining the health network’s plans in the event of a COVID outbreak.(Supplied)

Yesterday, a letter was distributed to health workers in the Eyre Peninsula and Far North Local Health Network.

The letter, obtained by the ABC, includes plans to move COVID-infected patients to different hospitals based on criteria, including their vaccination status, and the possible cancellation of elective surgeries in the event of an outbreak if vaccination rates in the health district remain low.

A SA Health spokeswoman said that the state government’s COVID-Ready Plan would play an important role in supporting healthcare facilities and ensuring the system was best placed to handle COVID-19 cases in South Australia when borders opened later this year.

“As part of our COVID-19 response, we have plans and processes in place to manage COVID-19 patients in the community, and patient health and safety is always our first priority,” she said.

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