It will still be days before there is a noticeable decrease in daily deaths, experts say, despite daily COVID-19 case numbers continuing to drop throughout Australia.
Friday was Australia’s deadliest day of the pandemic, with 98 deaths recorded nationwide.
“This is a significant loss at any time, but in the context and the global pandemic, our thoughts, our prayers and our best wishes go to those people who are grieving,” Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said on Friday.
The significant and tragic loss will likely continue in the near future.
Adrian Esterman is a professor of biostatistics at the University of South Australia who has been tracking COVID-19 case numbers and deaths throughout the pandemic.
He says infections, hospitalisations and deaths are linked similarly to how they were during previous waves.
“We get hospitalisations falling between seven and 14 days after infection for those who end up in hospital, and then we get deaths falling a week or two after that,” Professor Esterman told The New Daily.
“So because we reached our peak of cases about 10 days ago, I’m not actually expecting deaths to come down for another few days yet.”
‘Death is a lagging indicator’
UNSW epidemiologist Dr Abrar Chughtai attributed this to the time it takes for people to realise they’re sick, seek medical attention, and then deteriorate.
“We know from the past outbreaks’ data that death is a lagging indicator,” he told TND.
Omicron has affected more young people than previous strains, and that’s partially because most of Australia decided to open up around the time it hit.
However, Professor Esterman noted that because Omicron is milder than Delta, those who die of it would also have been vulnerable during previous waves.
On Friday, NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant announced that 35 people in aged care homes had died with COVID between January 2 and January 20.
These deaths were previously unannounced due to a delay in communication between the local health district and federal health authorities.
Infectious disease physician Professor Lyn Gilbert said that while there are still a significant number of deaths in aged care homes due to the sheer magnitude of the Omicron wave, they now make up a smaller proportion of overall deaths.
Professor Gilbert helped lead a review into the COVID-19 outbreaks at several aged care homes during the first months of the pandemic and said that while these facilities are better equipped, there is a different toll to be taken into account.
The mental cost of isolation
“It’s certainly nothing like it was in Victoria in 2020, when something like 75 per cent of all deaths were residents of aged care facilities,” she told TND.
However, a serious concern for all aged care residents is the physical, mental and emotional toll of isolation and lockdowns in their own facilities, Professor Gilbert said.
According to NSW health authorities – where there have been more COVID deaths in January than in any other state – these numbers once again show how serious the situation is for some of the country’s most vulnerable people.