A new wave of COVID has hit Victoria, with case numbers and hospitalisations rising 20 per cent in the past week.
But experts say despite the significant jump in case numbers, the latest wave in infections will not be as severe as previous ones due to a “great wall of immunity” in the community.
Positive test numbers are increasing in Victoria.Credit:Istock
Data released by the Victorian Health Department on Friday shows there were 3960 new cases of COVID-19 recorded over the past week.
There has been a daily average hospital occupancy of 114 patients, four Victorians are in intensive care units and 29 deaths have been reported in the past seven days. It mirrors a national trend, with daily cases across Australia up almost 15 per cent this week.
Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, said the new wave would be “slow, shallow and last a long time”.
“There is a massive wall of immunity that is flattening the curve,” he said.
Esterman said most people were not worried about catching COVID and to some extent this was justified due to their high levels of immunity through infection and vaccination.
“Most people, unless they have things like diabetes, are low risk and the chances are if they catch COVID it will be like the flu,” he said.
But Esterman said 10 per cent of people who caught the virus would develop long COVID, an illness characterised by fatigue, shortness of breath and problems with memory and concentration.
He said people aged over 60 and those with pre-existing health conditions should ensure they were up-to-date with vaccinations and wore face masks when going out.
Around 90 per cent of Australians have been infected by COVID-19 and high levels of immunity in the community made it difficult for the virus to find new people to attack, Esterman said.
He said COVID was at an awkward stage of being between an epidemic and endemic in Australia.
“The epidemic stage means you have more cases than you might expect and in the endemic stage, numbers grumble along,” he said. “We don’t have that, we are having waves [of infection].”
Esterman anticipates that Australia will enter the endemic stage of COVID next year.
Scripts for antiviral medications are mirroring the increase in infection and hospitalisation numbers, with 2209 scripts for COVID-19 antivirals dispensed by the state’s pharmacies last week, up from 1999 scripts the previous week.
Epidemiologist Hassan Vally said Australia was entering the “disease control” phase of its response to COVID, which meant we were transitioning from a public health emergency to a situation where we have learnt to live with the virus.
“At the beginning of the pandemic we were willing to give up our liberties to stop something potentially catastrophic,” the Deakin University associate professor said. “We are now starting to live our lives more normally.”
Victorian COVID-19 data
Total cases for the past week: 3960 (+20 per cent)
Total active cases: 3374
Cases in hospital (seven-day rolling average): 114 (+21%)
Cases in ICU (seven-day rolling average): 4
Lives lost on average each day over the past week: 4
Total lives lost: 7399
But Vally said living with the virus did not mean it was harmless.
“We still need to be very concerned about COVID.” he said. “We are seeing an uptick in cases and that might mean that we revisit how we protect ourselves against the virus. This might involve wearing a mask more frequently or ensuring you are up-to-date with your vaccinations.”
He said we may settle into a predictable pattern where the virus acts like influenza, with a yearly spike in cases.
Altona North GP Mukesh Haikerwal has noticed a recent uptick in patients with COVID attending his specialist immediate care clinic, which treats people with respiratory symptoms.
Dr Mukesh Haikerwal administers a COVID vaccine at his Altona North clinic.Credit:Eddie Jim
“They want reassurance and certification because they need the time off for work,” he said. “Some need antivirals.”
He expects this surge to continue and is trying to recruit more staff to meet the demand. He hopes to increase the operation of the clinic from three to five days a week ahead of the flu season.
While people infected with previous variants of COVID often lost their sense of smell and taste, Haikerwal said those infected with current variants mainly had runny noses, coughs, wheezing, sore throats and phlegm.
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