Australia’s fourth Covid wave expected to peak before Christmas, experts say Coronavirus

Australia’s fourth wave of Covid is likely to peak before Christmas as rates of hospital admissions and infections begin to slow.

Cases have continued to rise across the country for the sixth straight week, but at a slower pace. This suggests that a plateau in cases would occur by the first week of December, in line with pandemic modelling, if this has not already happened.

New South Wales recorded 31,531 new Covid cases in the weekly reporting period, up 13% from last week’s 27,869.

Victoria recorded 22,281 new cases in the latest weekly reporting period, up 9% from the previous week’s 20,398.

Previously, cases in NSW and Victoria doubled in just a fortnight, fueled by a ‘soup’ of Omicron subvariants.

Fast coda to mine @ConversationEDU Last week’s article… EpiNow NSW Rt’s estimate peaked at the end of October. Given the downtrend, we could see a peak in daily cases for the wave in the second half of next week. Sooner than I expected – seasonal factors might finally become important! pic.twitter.com/yV5FhhlrV2

— James Wood (@JamesGWood_UNSW) November 20, 2022

The number of deaths in NSW fell to 25, down from 39 the previous week. Of the state’s deaths, 16 people were aged care workers, of whom 14 died in a aged care facility.

There were 1,320 people hospitalized with the virus and 32 in intensive care as the seven-day rolling average of daily admissions fell to 73, compared with 75 the previous week.

However, the number of emergency room visits had increased to 314 from 262 in the last reporting period.

James Wood, associate professor of epidemiological modeling of infectious diseases at the University of New South Wales Sydney, said cases were “very close” to peaking in NSW if they hadn’t already.

“My guess is that they’re going to stay at current levels for the next week or two and then go down,” he said.

“I definitely expect cases to be significantly lower by Christmas. It looks like the new Omicron subvariants are already quite dominant and that increasing immunity to infection and reduced transmission as we move into summer will push cases down.”

68 deaths have been recorded in Victoria in the past seven days – up from 46 the previous week. Health officials said deaths may not have occurred in the week they were officially reported.

Hospitalizations rose 22% to an average of 430 per day, and there were 15 daily ICU admissions, nearly doubling the previous week.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said hospital admissions and case counts are expected to increase for several weeks, with an expected peak forecast expected in early December.

“Indications from Singapore and western Europe suggest this wave could pass relatively quickly, although different local conditions could have an impact,” Sutton said.

The state’s latest sewage test results found strong detection of Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid – in every geographic area and “very strong” detection in Craigieburn and Portland.

Similarly, all samples tested in NSW contained fragments of Sars-CoV-2, with a particular increase in Quakers Hill in western Sydney.

Queensland recorded 10,082 new cases and 14 deaths in the most recent reporting period, down from the 10,106 cases and 15 deaths reported the previous week.

However, hospital admissions increased by 27%. It treated 312 people with Covid in hospital and eight in intensive care, compared with 245 admissions and five in intensive care in the previous week.

Catherine Bennett, Chair of Epidemiology at Deakin University, said it was clear cases were “declining” across the country and had already leveled off in Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

“I would describe it as a plateau rather than a sharp peak,” she said. “Coming down is less certain, we’re still learning about a mix of viruses and you’re still 50% more likely to contract the virus compared to earlier in the month.

“But hopefully it’s at its highest and it’ll be a more normal Christmas this year.”

The last wave now consisted of a mix of Omicron sub-lineages, including BR.2 and BQ.1.1.

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There have been 11 different variants of Covid-19 circulating in NSW, including three ‘recombinant’ variants. A new BA.2.75/BA.5 recombinant, XBF, accounted for more than 10% of the sequenced cases in Victoria.

Bennett said the Covid variants are currently reproducing at a rate of 1.1, “hardly a replacement” due to hybrid immunity, recent infection and vaccination rates.

She said the relatively low number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions compared to previous waves is also cause for optimism.

“Early predictions were that the eruption would behave similarly to waves overseas, and that appears to be the case,” she said.

“If we don’t see hospitalizations increasing and that impact the daily death rate, that’s the most important thing … and outbreaks in elderly care will be seen.”

A spokesman for the federal health ministry said cases had risen 11% nationwide in the week ending November 22, while hospitalizations were up 14%.

They said that while there was usually a delay in hospital admissions, which could widen after case numbers fall, the numbers remained “well below” the earlier winter peak.

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