Australians with Covid-19 are being urged to “stay home” as several states grapple with soaring numbers of infections, including Australia’s most populous region, which is seeing its highest levels in a year.
Two new Covid variants have swept NSW over the holiday period and are being credited with a new wave of illness.
About 1400 people are reporting to the state’s emergency departments with the virus and 400 being admitted to hospital each week, according to NSW Health’s Head of Health Protection James McAnulty.
“That’s just people presenting to hospital, so we know there are many more people out there who, fortunately, are not sick enough to require hospitalisation or a visit to the emergency department,” Dr McAnulty said.
“This reflects a high level of Covid activity in the community at the moment.
“We’re seeing the highest level of Covid in a year.”
It’s a similar situation in Victoria, where the 377 people, on average, are being hospitalised with Covid each week, up from 326 in early December.
Victoria’s figures follow a high number of cases detected in November but are not quite as high as the peak levels seen during a wave in May and June last year, which brought a seven-day average of 488 hospitalisations.
Variants behind the new Covid wave
Victorian health authorities have described the situation as a “wave on wave” pattern driven by two variants in quick succession.
In Victoria, the JN. 1 variant is now the most prevalent strain. In NSW, the EG.5 variant is responsible for about 40 per cent of recent Covid cases and JN. 1, between 35 and 36 per cent
“We’re seeing a variant called EG.5 and an emerging variant called JN. 1, which has been very infectious in many parts of the world,” Dr McAnulty explained.
“Each of these new variants appears to be more infectious, they’re getting a mutation. It’s kind of what viruses do, they mutate to get around our immune system.”
Epidemiologists have warned since the early days of the pandemic that many Covid variants will develop and vary significantly in terms of transmissibility and severity.
JN. 1 has been declared a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organisation due to its “rapidly increasing spread”, but it is not believed to pose a greater risk to health than other forms of Covid-19.
Victoria’s chief health officer Clare Looker warned the state had been battered by the two variants arriving in quick succession.
“Part of the concern with this new variant has just really been the speed with which it’s taken off,” she told Nine Newspapers.
“So over a few weeks, we’ve really seen it very quickly be the dominant variant in the community.”
‘Stay home’: Health expert’s warning
Dr McAnulty recommended that those in NSW who test positive to the virus stay home or wear a mask if they need to go outside.
“Stay at home if you’ve got symptoms, until those symptoms resolve. If you need to go out for essential reasons, then wear a mask,” he said.
“Don’t go visiting other people, particularly people at high risk, particularly don’t go to aged care facilities or residential care facilities or disability services.”