News National ‘Protect the vulnerable’: Stark warning as latest COVID wave takes hold

‘Protect the vulnerable’: Stark warning as latest COVID wave takes hold

Hospitals brace for COVID-19 admissions spike

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Australians have been given a stark warning about our spiralling COVID-19 wave, with the chief medical officer saying the death toll is likely to keep rising.

Professor Paul Kelly has urged eligible Australians to get their third or fourth COVID vaccine, before the predicted peak of the latest Omicron wave.

The daily number of cases reported across the country jumped to more than 50,500 on Tuesday, while there were also another 75 deaths.

It came as a Queensland infectious diseases expert said the virus was likely to overtake heart disease as the nation’s leading cause of death – with one in every 110 Queenslanders currently infected with COVID.

Menzies Health Institute Queensland professor Nigel McMillan said Australians weren’t taking the risk of COVID seriously enough.

“It will outpace cardiac coronary heart disease by the end of the year if we keep going at this rate,” he told ABC Radio Brisbane.

“We haven’t had an infectious disease be the No.1 cause of death in 120 years, so if that’s not enough for people to realise this is serious then I don’t know what is.

“The case fatality rate – that is, the number of people who die per 100 – has dropped from 3 per cent to 0.1 [per cent], our medical interventions are working and people kind of consider it less serious, [but] this virus keeps changing on us.”

Professor McMillan said politicians needed to find a “middle ground” between public backlash against government control and putting more pressure on the already stretched hospital system.

“People basically don’t like being told what to do and people really are mentally exhausted from all this, but the reality is right now today, one in every 110 Queenslanders has COVID,” he said.

Later on Tuesday, Professor Kelly warned the continued spike in infections would keep piling pressure on hospitals.

“We may also see a rise in the number of people dying with COVID-19, particularly among those who are at higher risk of severe disease,” he said.

“We cannot stop this wave of infections, but we can slow the spread and protect the vulnerable. We have done this before and we can do it again.”

The continued spike in infections will keep piling pressure on hospitals.

Professor Kelly has also urged employers to review health and safety risks, as well as allow employees to work from home if possible.

Health Minister Mark Butler said the third Omicron wave was concerning.

“There were 300,000 cases or thereabouts reported over the last seven days, and I think [Professor Kelly] and I are pretty confident that the real number is likely to be double that,” he said in Canberra on Tuesday.

“The other difference obviously between the situation we confront today and in January is that hospitals are also grappling with flu and a range of other respiratory illnesses and the usual surge in hospital activity that we see during winter.”

Australia’s latest winter booster data. Image: Federal government

More than 560,000 fourth COVID doses have already been administered in the first week since eligibility widened to allow them for anyone over 30 – with most of those lining up being between 50 and 65 years old.

That’s compared with 180,000 doses of a second booster the week before.

However, Mr Butler wanted a greater take up of a third dose, with just 50,000 first boosters administered in the past week.

Pandemic isolation payments for eligible workers resume from Wednesday until September 30.

However, Government Services Minister Bill Shorten said employees would have to show they were not able to financially cover the impact of being off work to be eligible for the $750-a-week payment.

“If you have sick leave, you have to use your sick leave first but, I stress, not your holiday leave,” Mr Shorten told the Seven Network’s Sunrise program on Tuesday.

“Also, if you have more than $10,000 in the bank … so it’s not a means test but if you’ve got liquid assets, then you are not eligible.”

There are more than 348,000 active coronavirus cases Australia wide, with more than 5200 patients in hospital care.

Any Australian aged over 50 is eligible for the winter COVID booster. Photo: AP

Booster doses: Who is eligible?

Anyone in Australia is eligible for a fourth, or winter, COVID booster if they are older than 50.

The fourth shots were opened to seven million more Australians earlier this month under a recommendation from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.

Further shots are also recommended for those who are at increased risk of severe illness. It should be given three months after their most recent booster.

The federal government says Australians should get a fourth dose if they are:

  • 50 years or older
  • A resident of an aged care or disability care facility
    severely immunocompromised (this will be a fifth dose)
  • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and aged 50 years and older
  • 16 years or older and with a medical condition that increases the risk of severe COVID-19 illness
  • 16 years or older with disability with significant or complex health needs or multiple comorbidities that increase risk of poor outcome
  • Find out more here.

ATAGI has also advised that people aged 30 to 49 can get fourth doses if they choose.

When can I get a booster?

The gap between third and fourth booster shots remains at three months.

Additionally, three months is needed between a COVID infection and a vaccine dose.

How to book booster shots

COVID vaccines are available at most GPs and many pharmacies.

Mass vaccine centres set up across Australia early in the vaccination program have been closed in most states and territories, or repurposed to focus on vaccinating vulnerable groups.

For the rest of us, vaccines can be booked through:

  • The federal government’s COVID-19 Clinic Finder
  • Health appointment websites and apps such as Health Engine or HotDoc
  • Websites for pharmacies and retail chains, including Chemist Warehouse, Priceline and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s
  • The federal government’s callback service Easy Vaccine Access. Those who need help making a COVID vaccine booking, can message ‘Hey EVA’ to 0481 611 382. A trained agent from the National Coronavirus Helpline will call with the booking.

-with AAP