Code Brown Emergency is declared amid COVID-19

For the first time in Victoria's history, an emergency Code Brown alert has been activated across all Melbourne public hospitals and major regional facilities as the healthcare system continues to buckle under pressure amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like many around the world, Victoria’s health system is juggling workforce shortages because of staff in isolation, a vast number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalisation, and ongoing treatment for patients with urgent and emergency needs.

What is a Code Brown?

  • Prioritising the offload of ambulance patients at emergency departments

  • Ceasing or reducing non-urgent clinical services or changing the frequency of access to these services

  • Staff may be asked to work in different parts of the hospital or in different roles

  • Asking staff to defer some form of leave if essential

Dozens of Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel have been called to help drive ambulances and assist with planning. The government hopes using this rare alert will allow overwhelmed hospitals to make the best use of hospital resources as Victoria battles the global Omicron outbreak. The Pandemic Code Brown is expected to last 4 to 6 weeks from today and health officials will monitor the situation to determine when it’s safe to begin winding down arrangements.

Deputy Premier James Merlino said, "It is the right time to do it now, not wait for a Code Brown until 2 or 3 weeks down the track when we're seeing the impact of the peak of Omicron hospitalisations and ICU patients."

Professor Sanjaya Senanayake told that the reported cases do not tell the whole story.

"The reality is, I think it will be hospitalisation data which tells us when we've reached the peak ... the reason being that the numbers that the chief health officers are telling us every day about their state or territory are likely to be very inaccurate because there's just so much Omicron out there," he said.

In Victoria, case numbers are likely to peak in mid-February putting additional pressure on a system already facing staff shortages and burnout.