Victoria's surgical response to the COVID-19 pandemic: the first two years

ANZ J Surg. 2023 Mar;93(3):476-486. doi: 10.1111/ans.18311. Epub 2023 Feb 9.


Victoria suffered three major waves during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Melbourne became the longest locked down city in the world at 267 days. This narrative review documents the chronological waves of COVID-19 in Victoria and key themes influencing the State-wide surgical response. In 2020, Victoria needed to secure supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and later, recognizing the importance of aerosol transmission, introduced a respiratory protection program to protect health care workers (HCWs) with fit-tested N-95 masks. It established routine preoperative PCR testing for periods when community prevalence was high and developed strategies to restrict elective surgery when hospital capacity was limited. In 2021, three short-term outbreaks were contained and eliminated whilst vaccination of HCWs and the vulnerable was taking place. A third major wave (Delta) occurred July to November 2021, succeeded by another involving the Omicron variant from December 2021. Planned surgery waiting list numbers, and waiting times for surgery, doubled between March 2020 and March 2022. In early 2022, almost 300 patients underwent surgery when infected with Omicron, with a low mortality (2.6%), though mortality was significantly higher in the unvaccinated (7.3% versus 1.4%). In conclusion, the Victorian response to COVID-19 involved tight state-wide social restrictions, contact tracing, furlough, escalating PPE guidance and respiratory protection. HCW infections were greatly reduced in 2021 compared with 2020. Pre-operative PCR testing gave confidence for emergency and urgent elective surgery to proceed during pandemic waves. Other elective cases were performed as health system capacity allowed, without compromising outcomes.

Keywords: COVID-19; elective surgery; emergency surgery; surgical outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • Respiratory Aerosols and Droplets
  • SARS-CoV-2

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants