Australia has the highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the world, with about 40 people dying from the virus every day but health authorities fear the pandemic has slipped off the national agenda.
Almost 7800 Australians have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
However, science and health writer Jane McCredie said “we have pretty much stopped talking about the biggest challenge our health system has ever faced”.
Last week Australia had an estimated 350 000 active cases and by the end of December, just over 400 000 Australians had contracted the virus, McCredle wrote in the InSight, the weekly online news magazine of the Medical Journal of Australia.
There are now more than 6.45 million Australians who have contracted the virus.
“That’s more than five million people in five months, and it’s bound to be an underestimate given the move to reliance on self-testing,” she wrote.
Due to high vaccination rates, the disease is a lot less deadly than it was at the start of the pandemic. But dozens of people are still dying each day.
“The reduction in mortality is no doubt one of the factors in our loss of interest, but a more compelling reason I suspect is that we are all simply exhausted,” McCredle said.
Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Terry Slevin told the MJA that the disease had taken an extraordinary toll on frontline health workers.
“After two years on high alert, plunging in and out of isolation, starting at every stranger’s cough, sanitising our hands like there’s no tomorrow, we just don’t have the energy anymore,” he said.
But the apathy could have real-world consequences, Professor Slevin said.
“Already we’re seeing a fight for people in public health to hang on to what resources they’ve got.
“The all-important focus groups must be telling our politicians we don’t care about this stuff, because otherwise, they’d be talking about it.”
Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said a mix of fatigue and complacency had led to the virus being shunted from the national spotlight.
“I think, past the silliness of this election, we do need to refocus,” he told the ABC on Sunday.
“Because this is adding an extra layer of healthcare needs, which is beyond what we’ve had in the past.”
He warned the health system was also trying to help thousands of Australians suffering from long COVID.
“Which is, I think, something as a community we haven’t acknowledged,” Dr Moy said.
Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data:
NSW: 8286 cases, four deaths, 1437 in hospital and 65 in ICU
Victoria: 11,464 cases, five deaths, 526 in hospital, 31 in ICU
Tasmania: 854 cases, one death, 44 in hospital, one in ICU
NT: 251 cases, no deaths, 22 in hospital, one in ICU
SA: 3392 cases, two deaths, 248 in hospital, seven in ICU
WA: 12,266 cases, one death, 314 in hospital, 11 in ICU