Covid update from Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly

Australia is seeing a significant increase in cases of the new BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the COVID-19 Omicron strain.

These variants are highly infectious and have the ability to evade immune protection from prior infection or vaccine. Although three or four doses of vaccine are still very effective in providing protection against serious BA.4 and BA.5 diseases, vaccination alone is not effective in stopping a person’s infection or transmission of the virus. to the other.

All guidance, including previous experience with the BA.1 Omicron variant in Australia in January this year, and recent experience with the BA.4 and BA.5 variants in other countries, and our Weekly forecast reports suggest cases will continue to rise in Australia over the coming month.

This wave of infections is already leading to an increase in the number of people with COVID-19. This will increase pressure on our hospitals which are already experiencing high levels of patients and absenteeism due to staff illness. Due to the number of cases, we may also see an increase in the number of people dying with COVID-19, especially among those who are at higher risk of serious illness, including people over 80 and those who do not. haven’t received all of the recommended vaccine doses.

We cannot stop this wave of infections, but we can slow the spread and protect vulnerable people. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. In fact, a series of measures and advice provided over the past two weeks give us a clear and scientifically based path to achieve this dual objective.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) reiterated its advice on re-infection periods, testing and isolation, wearing of masks, vaccine boosters and treatment and called on employers to allow working from home if possible.

Employers should review their occupational health and safety risks and mitigation measures, as well as their business continuity plans. They should consider allowing some employees to work from home, wear masks in the workplace, and help employees take sick leave.

All of these recommendations are based on what we know works either to reduce the spread of the virus or to protect those most at risk of serious illness.

Australia’s Immunization Technical Advisory Group has expanded its recommendations on fourth doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Fortunately, this had an immediate effect, with almost 560,000 fourth doses administered in the first week of the expanded rollout, compared to around 180,000 the previous week, a threefold increase.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee has also broadened and simplified the criteria for the availability of oral antiviral treatments that can be prescribed by general practitioners and dispensed in community pharmacies. We do not yet have data on prescriptions since the announcement of these changes but expect a significant increase, given that the number of prescriptions had already more than doubled to 13,441 from 5,657 in mid-June. beginning of July.

Last week, many measures were introduced to increase the protection of elderly residents. As part of this, I have written to all aged care facilities to stress the importance of having antiviral medications readily available within 24 hours of a positive test and a comprehensive winter plan to protect residents from COVID. -19.

Modeling and forecasting offer a range of possible scenarios that are entirely dependent on what we do now. We know this from our experience of the past two years where we all took actions that changed the course of history.

What has been predicted before has led to appropriate actions by individuals, communities and the government, which has led to fewer cases and protected the most vulnerable members of our community – older Australians, people living with a disability, those with chronic illnesses or reduced immunity and First Peoples of the Nations. By working together, we can do it again. This is not about individual responsibility but about concerted and sustained community action.

I encourage anyone who is eligible for their fourth dose and has not yet received it to make an appointment as soon as possible to receive it. I also remind any Australian who has not received a third dose of vaccine that two doses of COVID vaccines simply do not provide adequate protection against serious illness. Having the recommended vaccines for your age group or risk profile is the most important thing Australians can do to prevent serious cases of COVID requiring hospitalization or even death.

I also encourage everyone to follow recent AHPPC advice and wear masks when outside the home in crowded indoor environments, including on public transport. This is important to protect yourself and others.

Physical distancing, where possible, and following good hygiene practices provide additional levels of protection. Get tested if you have symptoms and stay home if you have COVID-19.

Check your eligibility for antiviral treatments with your regular healthcare provider and establish a COVID treatment plan so you know exactly what to do to access this life-saving treatment before you get sick.

Reducing the impact of COVID-19 is a shared responsibility for all. We can all play a role in protecting ourselves and our loved ones, our hospitals and the broader healthcare system, those most at risk, and society as a whole.

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