COVID-19 numbers are rising: What does the new wave mean for Australians?

According to data collected by the Department of Health, 54,661 cases of COVID-19 were reported across Australia over the last week, an average of 7,809 cases per day.

Experts believe we are in the midst of the fourth wave of COVID-19. As of 8 November 2022, new cases have jumped by over 57% in Victoria to 2,213. While weekly infections in New South Wales have risen by 54% to 2,469. 

Although official numbers for this week haven’t been reported by the Department of Health, media coverage states that weekly cases have jumped up to 16,636 in Victoria and 19,800 in New South Wales. 

It’s also important to note that as it’s no longer mandatory to register a positive COVID test in many states, we can’t be sure how many people are testing when they get ill.

Jurisdictional reporting as at 09 Nov 2022. Please note that due to rounding, jurisdiction averages may not sum exactly to national averages.
Chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, Professor Adrian Esterman

The number of hospitalised COVID-19 cases have also increased by an average of 11.6% in the week of 8 November 2022. 

Weekly COVID-19 cases in hospital and ICU and case notifications, Australia, 01 Jan 2022 to 08 Nov 2022

Why is COVID-19 surging again?

With this new wave hitting Australia in spring instead of winter, we have been left to debate the cause behind this unpredictable surge. 

Professor Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of South Australia, said in an interview with SBS news that it could be because of three factors:

  1. Waning Immunity 

Many people in Australia who received their last dose have waning immunity from vaccination and previous infection.

We have discussed this point on our social media while addressing a question our Pharmacists have been frequently asked – “If I have had my fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, am I eligible to receive the new Bivalent Moderna as a fifth dose?”. 

Unfortunately, a fifth (3rd booster) dose has not yet been announced. Department officials told a Senate committee the vaccine advisory body ATAGI has not yet provided advice on whether or not most people should get a fifth dose of a COVID vaccine. 

That said, many people were still not up to date with their current boosters. 72% of eligible Australians have had their third dose and only 42% have had their fourth dose. 

If you received your last vaccination dose four months ago, although you may still have some protection, it’s nowhere near as strong as it was four months ago. 

  1. New Omicron subvariants have arrived in Australia

New Omicron subvariants, including XBB and BQ.1, which were present in places like Singapore and France, have arrived in Australia as well. They are believed to be much more transmissible than BA.5 and are much better at evading our immunity as current vaccinations are not formulated to target them yet. Their presence alone could be the cause behind an increase in cases. 

  1. Removal of public health measures 

Finally, the relaxation and subsequent removal of public health measures such as mandatory isolation and mask-wearing in indoor settings are playing a role here too. 

Apart from vaccinations, they were the one line of defense that we could practice on an individual level. Their removal has made us vulnerable to any new variant that comes along that we don’t have immunity against. 

What happens next?

Professor Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Victoria’s Deakin University, told SBS news that the new subvariants are similar to ones we’ve seen before.

“Thankfully, they don’t cause more severe illness,” she said. 

“But we know from our own experience that higher infection rates can mean more people end up in hospital.”

Professor Esterman said some experts believe that this new wave may not go on for as long or be as severe as the previous ones.

“The reason why people are saying this is because we’ve seen similar waves starting in Singapore and in France, and they were fairly short-lived and not as high as BA.5. But there is no guarantee that the same thing would happen here.” he said.

Coming back to the role of personal responsibility 

We have discussed the importance of individual responsibility in this stage of the pandemic in an earlier blog post. But, it is a message that bears repeating.  

At a time like this, management of the pandemic has now become a personal responsibility. It’s still very important to be aware of your own infection risk and be careful around others if you test positive for COVID or have COVID-related symptoms.

Staying safe and keeping others protected from COVID-19 is now a long game and must be played like one. 

This means if you’re worried you’ve been exposed to someone with the virus, or start to see symptoms, it’s always better to know your COVID status. Ignoring it can put yourself and others at risk. Keeping the following suggestions in mind may help:

  • Self-testing if you start exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. It’s better to err on the side of caution if you work in high-risk settings or are around people vulnerable to serious disease
  • Staying up-to-date with vaccination status as and when ATAGI passes their recommendations. Heathershaw’s offers Bivalent Moderna Booster vaccine appointments. If you are eligible and haven’t received your booster yet, you can book one for yourself online.
  • Masks are no longer mandated, but if you feel that you are in a space where the risk of infection is higher, it’s best to assume the virus is present and mask up
  • Being aware of who has access to COVID-19 antivirals in case of illness 
  • Lastly, practice hand hygiene whenever possible. Using a hand sanitiser daily is a simple act of protection 

Opinions or facts expressed within the content have been sourced from various news sources. While every effort has been taken to source them accurately, the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates do not take any responsibility for errors in these sources. Patients should not rely on the facts or opinions in the content to manage their own health, and should seek the advice of an appropriate medical professional. Further, the opinions or facts in the content do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the pharmacy, its owners, staff or other affiliates.

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