Experts’ big prediction on Victoria’s winter Covid wave

The latest data shows Victoria’s seven-day average of hospitalised Covid patients has dropped marginally from 831 last week, to 811 this week. On of Monday there were 773 Covid patients in Victoria’s hospitals. Overall infection rates are also dropping by more than 10 per cent a week, with ongoing Burnet Institute modelling forecasting the positive trends for the current BA.4 and BA.5 strains will continue. However, the number of Covid deaths continues to rise following a surge in cases among elderly residents, fuelled by increased movement during the winter school holidays. Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said half of the Covid patients in hospital were over the age of 75 – compared to just 17 per cent during the Delta wave – though the rate of fatalities was expected to soon also turn downwards in line with a drop in overall infections.“We are certainly seeing a peak in our Covid cases, we look to be on the down slope with about a 10 per cent reduction in case numbers compared to last week,” Prof Sutton said. “As we would expect, the hospitalisation numbers also appear to be plateauing now, if not (being) just past the peak.“The pressures on the health system will be substantial for some weeks to come, and mask wearing, meeting outdoors, ventilation, getting your vaccine…they will still make a difference on this down slope.” With almost 2000 healthcare workers off work due to illness the state’s hospital system is expected to remain on a Stage 3 “severe” footing for at least several more weeks. There are also concerns that many Covid-positive Victorians are failing to either undertake a test or officially record their results with authorities, limiting their access to oral treatments that are having a huge impact on the severity of illness. Although the state’s seven-day average cases now stands at 10,199, Burnet modellers believe as few as 45 per cent of the total cases are being reported. Of those, about one in 10 are reinfections who face an increased likelihood of long Covid symptoms as well as heart attacks, stroke and other conditions. Victoria’s 2022 Covid toll reached 3050 on Monday with the deaths of three people in their 70s and 90s.Prof Sutton said that while the most at-risk groups were able to protect themselves during the early waves, the higher movement under the current outbreak made it more difficult to isolate the elderly, particularly during the winter school holidays. Covid winter update Aug 1However, the Burnet modelling found school mask usage was credited, along with booster shots, for helping reverse the current wave. “It may be overly optimistic (but) if we make an assumption of 100 per cent mask wearing in schools we can drop those new cases by around 15 per cent, hospitalisation by a similar figure, and deaths by 5-10 per cent.” “But it is up to us how much we make that happen in the real world.” With further waves of new Covid strains expected to strike well into the future – including the emerging BA.275 variant – Prof Sutton said it was likely masks would remain prominent in Victoria for “years”. “It’ll only be if we get a vaccine … that works for all variants, stops us getting infected in the first place, and does not wane in its effectiveness very much, that we can see an end to this pandemic,” Prof Sutton said. 

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