Australia’s fourth wave of Covid is likely to peak before Christmas as hospitalizations and infection rates begin to slow.
For the sixth week in a row, cases across the country continue to rise, albeit at a slower pace. This suggests that the plateau in cases will come by the first week of December epidemic modelingIf it isn’t already.
New South Wales recorded 31,531 new COVID cases in the weekly reporting period, up 13% from the previous 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.
Earlier, cases in NSW and Victoria were doubling In just over a fortnight, powered by a “soup” of Omicron subvariants.
Deaths in NSW fell to 25 compared to 39 the previous week. Of the state’s deaths, 16 were aged care residents, 14 of whom died in an aged care facility.
There were 1,320 people being treated in hospital with the virus and 32 in intensive care, as the seven-day rolling average of daily admissions dropped to 73 compared with 75 the previous week.
However, emergency department presentations increased to 314 from 262 in the previous reporting period.
James Wood, an associate professor of epidemiological modeling of infectious diseases at the University of New South Wales Sydney, said cases were “very close” to the peak in NSW, if it had not already happened.
“I suspect they will stay around current levels for the next week or two and then decline,” he said.
“I certainly expect cases to be markedly lower by Christmas. It appears that the new Omicron subvariant is already very close to being effective and with increased immunity to infection and less transmission as we move into the summer Which will push matters down.
In Victoria, 68 deaths were recorded in the past seven days – more than 46 in the past week. Health Officials said the deaths may not have happened in the week they were formally reported.
Hospitalization rates rose 22% to an average of 430 per day, and there were 15 daily ICU admissions, nearly double the previous week’s 8.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said the number of hospitalizations and cases was expected to rise for several weeks, with a possible peak forecast for early December.
“Signs from Singapore and Western Europe suggest that this wave may pass relatively quickly, although individual local conditions may have had an impact,” Sutton said.
The state’s latest wastewater test results revealed a strong detection of SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID – in every geographic area, and “very strong” detections in Craigieburn and Portland.
Similarly, in NSW all tested samples 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 latest reporting period, a decrease from the 10,106 cases and 15 deaths reported last week.
However, there was a 27% increase in the hospitalization rate. 312 people were being treated in hospital and eight in ICU, compared to 245 admissions and five in intensive care last week.
Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, said it was clear cases were “starting to taper” across the country and had already flattened in Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.
“I’d describe it as more of a plateau than a sharp peak,” she said. “The coming down is less certain, we are still learning about the mix of viruses and you are still 50% more likely to get the virus than at the start of the month.
“But hopefully it will be at the highest level and it will be a more normal Christmas this year.”
The latest wave was now made up of a mix of Omicron sub-lineages including BR.2 and BQ.1.1.
There were 11 different variants of COVID-19 circulating in NSW, including three “recombinant” variants. A new BA.2.75/BA.5 recombinant, XBF, makes up over 10% of sequenced cases in Victoria.
Bennett said that due to hybrid immunity, recent infection and vaccination rates, Covid variants were currently reproducing at a rate of 1.1, “barely a replacement”.
There was also reason for optimism because of the relatively low number of hospitalizations and ICU admissions compared to previous waves, he said.
“Early predictions were that the outbreak would behave in waves overseas, and that seems to be the case,” she said.
“If we don’t see an impact on hospitalizations and daily mortality rates that is going to be the most important thing … and aged care outbreaks will be worth watching.”
A spokeswoman for the federal health department said cases nationwide had risen by 11% in the week ending 22 November, while the number of hospitalizations had increased by 14%.
He said that while there is usually a delay in hospitalisations, which may increase after a drop in case numbers, the numbers remain “significantly down” from the peak of earlier winters.