At yesterday’s Liberal party launch, Prime Minister Scott Morrison triumphantly declared Australia has had the best COVID recovery in the world: “On almost every measure, growth, jobs, debt levels, fatality rates, vaccine rates, Australia’s recover is leading the advanced world.”
It’s true that we have some of the world’s highest vaccination rates and solid economic regrowth. But Australia is now also leading the world in a much less pleasant measure: COVID cases.
The weekend’s case numbers have put Australia at the top, worldwide, with total new daily cases only higher in Germany and the USA. Last week we had two consecutive days of 58,000 cases, and by Saturday our seven-day-average was up over 48,000.
Data from May 13th puts Australia’s average daily infection rate at 1,887 cases per million people. For countries with populations over 1 million, this is the second-highest rate in the world – much, much higher than in the US or the UK, even Germany.
But surprisingly, COVID has been all but ignored by both politicians and the media in this election period.
Australia has swung from one extreme to the other. Over the past two years, federal and state governments have enacted strict measures of control, vaccination and mask mandates, lockdowns and capacity caps. Now, our government has washed its hands of COVID, adopting a ‘let it rip’ strategy.
In total, Australia has had 7,794 COVID deaths. 5,555 of these deaths have occurred in 2022, and we’re not even halfway through the year. Hospitalisations and deaths, though not as prominent as elsewhere, are also trending up. Our current average daily COVID deaths sit at 40 – double since March.
Medical professionals are concerned about a possible new COVID wave as we head into winter; an eventuality which our overburdened healthcare system would not cope with.
AMA President Omar Khorshid is worried, “In Perth [where I’m based], they’re saying it could be 20,000 to 25,000 cases a day soon…We feel as if there’s been no notice paid to the plight of our public hospitals.” Western Australia recorded its highest case numbers on Wednesday, with 9,782 cases – a record it’s bracing to break in the coming weeks.
Nancy Baxter, an epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, says “We’re at a point where COVID is now one of the major killers of Australians, and probably by the end of the year is going to be one of the top three.”
Why are we seeing a resurgence in cases?
There are currently three new Omicron subvariants circulating in Australia: BA.2.12.1; BA.4; and BA.5. Experts like Professor Adrian Esterman, chair of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, say all three are about 25% more transmissible than Omicron BA.2.
This makes infection more likely, as vaccine protections aren’t tailored to these subvariants, and vaccine protection is generally waning as time goes by. The risk of reinfection is also high with these new strains.
Our total abandonment of other measures to restrict transmission is not helping. Masks are no longer mandated anywhere except public transport – and even on buses and trains, many don’t wear masks and enforcement is lax. Borders have been thrown open, and social distancing has faded into the background.
Polling by Essential from August 2021 showed only 15% of Australians would find it acceptable to have over 1,000 COVID deaths annually as restrictions were removed. “What we said we couldn’t contemplate we’re now shrugging our shoulders about,” commented Essential’s executive director Peter Lewis.
Chief executive at the Burnet Institute, Brandan Crabb, has slammed politicians for having their “heads in the sand.”
“I’m over it. We all are. But the numbers we are seeing in Australia are extraordinary. So many people are very, very sick. Yet, there’s a massive disconnect between what’s happening with these disruptions to our lives and why it’s happening.”
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