Winter ‘crisis’ looms as sub-variants stoke fears among experts

“What is different about us compared to countries in the northern hemisphere is that we are going to be heading towards two things at once: winter and the BA.4 and BA.5 epidemics,” Trauer said. .

“If we have a major crisis period, which seems to be on the cards, then I think we will have to consider strengthening the least restrictive and most effective interventions, which include things like increasing the use of masks facials,” he said.

Victoria recorded 491 hospitalizations and 18 deaths on Friday. Across the country, 53% of people have received their booster and 84% are fully vaccinated.

It is unknown whether the spread of Omicron subvariants would follow the same trajectory as overseas countries, but there is evidence that after being infected with the Omicron BA.1 subvariant, the reinfection is always possible with sublines.

Experts also point to diminished immunity due to boosters or second doses, weakening compliance with remaining health measures, and increased crowding in poorly ventilated indoor spaces during winter as reasons for a another possible peak.

While vaccines offer good protection against serious diseases, they are less protective against infections.

Stuart Turville, a virologist at the Kirby Institute, said it was inevitable that entering the winter months would ‘drive the numbers up’ and the arrival of Omicron subvariants could lead to another spike. .

But he was mostly concerned about the return of another “wild card” variant, like Omicron, which he says will reappear every 12 months, with unpredictable mutations.

Victoria’s worsening hospital crisis came to a head this week when Professor John Wilson, a respected doctor at Alfred Hospital, resigned after 30 years of service, citing untenable and deteriorating conditions in the Victorian healthcare system. Victoria.

Extraordinary measures, including moving patients out of overcrowded emergency departments into hospital hallways and stretched wards, are being proposed as doctors warn of growing health risks.

Turville said authorities must continue to be vigilant in tracking efforts to monitor new subvariants with genomic sequencing.

“Although we are highly vaccinated and doing the right thing, we are still accumulating quite a few deaths on a daily basis,” Turville said.

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Doherty Institute director Sharon Lewin said Australia needs to improve its data collection and look to approaches in Britain, where authorities routinely sample around 150,000 people from different demographics every two years. weeks.

Prof Allen Cheng, outgoing co-chair of Australia’s Immunization Technical Advisory Group, said that even though mandates were over, there was nothing stopping people from taking precautions.

Booster coverage in the country is not ideal, he said, and vaccinations for children could also be higher.

“Ideally, it would be good if more people got their third and now their fourth dose, as recommended,” Cheng said.

However, he noted that it was positive that at least the third dose of coverage was higher in the elderly than in the young, while the opposite was the case in Hong Kong.

A spokesman for Victoria’s health department said it was monitoring the recent rise in cases, noting an increase in cases in schools after school holidays and regular rapid antigen testing.

“We continue to monitor and respond to the COVID-19 situation in Victoria and it is important that Victorians continue to observe good COVID safety practices, which can protect you from infection with this virus,” a- he declared.

“The best thing Victorians can do to protect themselves and their community from COVID-19 is to get up to date with their vaccinations.”

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