Home General News Australia’s COVID rules have been rolled back – despite rising infections

Australia’s COVID rules have been rolled back – despite rising infections

by Anthony L. Gonzalez

COVID rules have continued to roll back across Australia, despite two new sub-variants driving up the number of cases – sparking alarm among some experts.

Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland have all announced an end to vaccine mandates for many workplaces, while Western Australia said Friday it would end daily case number updates.

It came when NSW Health warned that two Omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, would soon become the dominant strains of the state. NSW Health said the new subvariants would likely cause a further jump in infections, including among those who have already had COVID-19.

Australia's COVID rules have been rolled back - despite rising infections

Victoria has also warned that the subvariants are taking over, accounting for up to 17 percent of cases since they were first discovered in April. They are expected to be dominant within a few weeks.

“This is in line with similar patterns in NSW and Queensland. In NSW, BA.4/BA.5 represented more than a third of COVID-19 variants in isolates from people who tested positive with PCR by June 11,” said the Victorian health authorities Friday.

“In Queensland, BA.4/BA.5 is expected to become dominant over the next two weeks. Both states saw a significant increase in people hospitalized with COVID-19 in June.

“The prevalence of BA.4/BA.5 in Victoria will likely lead to increased cases – including reinfections – and hospitalizations. This is because the strain has a greater ability than BA.2 to evade the immunity afforded by vaccination and previous COVID-19 infection.

On Friday, chief medical officer Paul Kelly renewed a call for Australians to get COVID booster shots, warning that reinfections of the Omicron subvariants evaded the immune responses boosted by vaccinations.

“Unfortunately, with those, we will see reinfections in the coming weeks and months. But we are not seeing a big increase in serious illnesses,” he said.

“That’s because of the vaccine protection, which can be boosted with a third and fourth dose.”

The federal government has launched an $11 million campaign to tackle the winter, targeting the six million Australians who have yet to receive their third vaccine. It will also focus on closing the vaccination gap among the indigenous community and parents of children ages five to 11.

Fourth injections for seniors

But the fourth (or winter) dose is limited to people over 65 (more than 50 for Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders), residents of aged or disabled care, severely immunocompromised, and certain medical conditions.

That’s despite the number of COVID cases rising across Australia, including the three major population bases in NSW, Victoria, and Queensland. The number of hospital admissions is also increasing.

Federal Health Secretary Mark Butler acknowledged the increases.

“There are still, as everyone knows, very high numbers of COVID cases and concerns,” he said on Wednesday.

“As you will see from the recent state modeling, case numbers may rise again as we see a higher prevalence of Omicron’s BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.”

“For most, this disease is now a mild to moderate, requiring people to isolate themselves, which is clearly causing significant economic disruption in many workplaces and industries, but for most, it is a mild to moderate disease.”

As news idea reported last week, the daily toll of COVID is also rising.

Australia’s COVID vaccine booster numbers, as of June 23. Source: Federal Department of Health

Change restrictions

Despite the recent rise, federal and state governments have continued to roll back pandemic restrictions.

Earlier in June, the federal government scrapped the requirements for wearing masks at airports on the recommendation of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

Qantas has also dumped masks on some outbound overseas flights. They will remain mandatory on domestic and domestic flights – although Mr. Butler has hinted that this could be the case soon.

“If I get any advice… on lifting the mask mandate on inbound flights, my intention would be to consult with state ministers,” he said.

But Adrian Esterman, a professor of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, said rolling back the restrictions may have been premature.

“We’re seeing increasing numbers of cases, potentially more serious disease, rising death rates, and we’ve reduced even more public health measures,” he told new idea.

“The first thing is for the government to tell everyone that it’s all over. And the second reason is that most people wanted it all to be over. I want it all over. But the problem is, the virus is still there. And it’s not all over yet.”

Wait and watch

During the federal election campaign, then-opposition leader Anthony Albanese spoke out about the Morrison government’s pandemic failings and pledged a new national strategy to minimize the number of COVID deaths.

But the strategy seems to be still in its infancy. Federal health officials said they would follow updated clinical advice and epidemiology but have not confirmed changes caused by the emergence of the latest subvariants.

Professor Esterman said that Australia risked making its COVID situation measurably worse without urgent action.

“It’s not as bad as the UK, where people don’t have to report positive tests anymore… If the territory and federal governments continue as they are, we’ll be in the same situation.”

But University of Sydney epidemiologist Professor Alexandra Martiniuk was more confident.

“I think we’re currently finding the right balance between people getting back to normal life,” she said.

“We have to recognize that COVID basically sucks, right? We all hate it; we want it to go away forever. And we wish it never happened… But alas, it doesn’t look like it’s ever going anywhere.

“So now let’s try to live our lives… And I think people are starting to improve, which is important.”

Professor Martiniuk said the best way for Australians to protect themselves against the latest highly transmissible sub-variants was to ensure they got both flu shots and COVID boosters.

“The good thing is that, although the vaccines were developed on the original strain, they hold up very well against serious illness and death,” she said.

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