Experts say Australia could still see new waves and strains of COVID-19. (Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash)
Infectious disease experts have warned that, while Australia might have passed the peak of its winter COVID-19 wave, there could still be future surges and strains of the deadly virus in future.
- Health authorities say Australia may have hit its winter COVID-19 peak earlier than predicted
- But they warn the virus has repeatedly mutated and different strains still pose a real risk
- On August 10, there were 133 deaths and 27,263 new cases recorded nationwide
James Cook University’s Professor Emma McBryde told the ABC that, while she was “cautiously optimistic” about the latest Omicron wave being over, there was still a risk of new COVID-19 variants.
“We’re still seeing a lot of deaths, [more than] 100 a day across Australia, which is an alarming number,” she said.
“We should be concerned about it rather than just dismissing it, but we should be cautiously optimistic that, bit by bit, we’re going to see a decline in cases in the medium term.
“I’m much-less optimistic about it being all over, as in the whole COVID pandemic being over,” she said.
“Because we’ve seen this virus mutate again and again, and some of those mutations make it milder and more infectious, and other mutations make it more severe and more infectious.
“So we don’t know what’s coming next.
“I wouldn’t be bold enough to make any statements on [the end of the pandemic].”
On Wednesday, Australia recorded 27,263 new cases of COVID-19 and 133 deaths. There were 4,415 cases being treated in hospital.
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler also said last week he was cautiously optimistic the most-recent wave had peaked.
“The data we’re seeing right now indicates we might have reached the peak earlier than we expected to,” he said on August 4.
Health Minister Mark Butler has warned of the “school holiday effect” on case numbers. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)
“We’re being a bit cautious about that because what we’ve seen through the pandemic is the ‘school holiday effect’, which shows numbers and transmission takes a slightly different course because of different activity in the school holidays.”
Professor Robert Booy — an infectious diseases paediatrician at the University of Sydney — said there was a “lot of good news”.
“The possibility of a new variant remains there, but we don’t see one on the horizon,” he said.
“[The Indian sub variant BA2.75] has fizzled out and we’ve had BA5 now for six months without a new variant taking over.
“So our immunity to BA5 is getting better and better.
Professor Robert Booy warns against complacency towards COVID-19. (ABC: 7.30)
“There isn’t a variant yet that looks likely to replace it, so there is hope on the horizon.”
However, he added, it was “no time for complacency”.
“We’re still seeing rampant deaths,” he said.
“It’s in front of our eyes and we’re looking at it with rose-tinted glasses. We’re seeing the positive and forgetting so many people are still dying and being damaged.”
He said the elderly and disabled were, “first of all”, precious people.
University of South Australia epidemiologist and biostatistician Professor Adrian Esterman said three key things needed to be done to improve case numbers:
- Higher percentage of the population getting their booster shot
- Encouraging correct usage of face masks in the correct places
- Better ventilation of indoor areas.
“If those three things are done, we have a much better chance of getting these case numbers lower,” he said.
“This is all assuming if this trend continues with new sub-variants of Omicron.
“That might not be the case. Tomorrow there might be a new variant, which would be called Pi, and that will be more transmissible than BA5 because that’s how these viruses take over.
“It could potentially be far more deadly. We simply don’t know.
“Are we getting towards the end game of this? Yes.
“We are for two reasons, we have vaccines that work reasonably well to stop people from dying [and] we have reasonably good antivirals.
“So we’re in a much better place than the start of the pandemic but it’s not over yet.”