COVID-19 update: Australian and New Zealand dentists experience tighter restrictions
SYDNEY, Australia: After months of relative success in controlling the spread of SARS-CoV-2 across both Australia and New Zealand, recent developments have resulted in lockdowns of differing extents being reintroduced in both countries. Though these lockdowns have been implemented for the benefit of public health, restrictions on dental services have left many in the profession with a sense of anxiety regarding their future.
When Dental Tribune International last provided an update on the SARS-CoV-2 situation in Australia and New Zealand on 26 June, each nation was navigating uncharted waters in terms of reopening dental practices. The presence of Level 1 restrictions meant that Antipodean dentists were able to deliver routine dental treatment to all patients, provided that they did not present as being at risk of transmitting SARS-CoV-2. Aerosol-generating procedures, such as ultrasonic scaling and irrigation using dental handpieces, were also permitted.
At that time, Victoria had experienced a small outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 that had led to postponing the easing of certain restrictions regarding social gatherings. In the weeks since, this outbreak has grown considerably in size, and the southern state now accounts for more than two-thirds of all COVID-19 cases recorded thus far in Australia, as well as for the majority of COVID-19-associated deaths. As a result, the Victorian capital city of Melbourne is currently under Stage 4 restrictions, while regional Victoria continues to face Stage 3 restrictions.
Victorian dentists struggle during difficult period
The stringent guidelines that Victorians currently face in daily life have carried over to the dental industry. For practices based in metropolitan Melbourne, Level 3 dental restrictions mean that they can stay open, but only to provide urgent care. Dentists in regional Victoria, meanwhile, are strongly encouraged to operate in line with Level 2 dental restrictions if there are active cases in their region and Level 1 if there are no nearby active cases.
Dr Angelo Pacella, president of the Australian Dental Association Victorian Branch, told Dental Tribune International that the state’s dentists were focused on ensuring a level of patient safety that would allow regular procedures to be performed once again.
“The sudden removal of access to these treatments and services could have major effects for patients down the road, since there is an established link between conditions such as periodontitis and systemic health,” Pacella said. He added: “Many dentists in Victoria were still catching up with patients after the initial COVID-19-caused shutdown back in March, and so it’s a little frustrating that we’ve had to shut down everything outside of emergency services, even though there has been no recorded transmission of the virus in Victorian dental practices.”
New Zealand faces new challenges
Until last week, New Zealand had controlled the spread of SARS-CoV-2 with such effectiveness that life there had regained some semblance of normality. This changed on 11 August, however, when four members of an Auckland-based family tested positive for the virus—the first community transmissions recorded by the country in 102 days.
As a result, Auckland has moved to alert Level 3 restrictions, and the rest of New Zealand is on alert Level 2. For dental professionals based in Auckland, this means that all patients must now be triaged via phone and only given treatment in emergency and urgent cases.