Winter wave warning for COVID-19

Dominic Giannini |

With Australians still focused on hitting the surf at the beach in the midst of summer, the chief medical officer is already warning of a potential winter wave of COVID-19 infections.

Professor Paul Kelly said winter is likely to bring a new spike in cases and potentially new variants of the virus, along with annual infections such as the flu. 

“In winter we will see more COVID, that’s been the case everywhere so far,” he said. 

“We’re almost certainly going to have a flu season this year as well in winter, and flu and coronavirus together – as is being seen in several countries in the northern hemisphere right now – is challenging.”

Professor Kelly said Australia was up for the challenge and further planning was underway to cope with future spikes in infection numbers.

But there was no way of anticipating the severity of any future outbreak. 

“Whether that will be armageddon for people that have not yet got it during this wave, or another variant, I can’t tell. That’s a crystal ball matter,” he said.

The comments came on Australia’s deadliest day of the pandemic so far, with 77 reported fatalities on Tuesday. 

That figure included 36 deaths in NSW, 22 in Victoria, 16 in Queensland – more than double its previous high – two in South Australia and one in the ACT.

The rising number of deaths, with older people with underlying health conditions still the most at risk, has led the government to pull emergency levers.

The government activated its private hospital agreement, giving the green light for up to 57,000 more nurses and 100,000 staff for Omicron-affected areas throughout the country.

It is also triggering the national medical stockpile to support states and territories undergoing resource shortages.

Ten million medical items – three million rapid antigen tests, two million N95 masks, two million surgical masks and up to a million each of gloves, gowns and goggles – will also be provided to the aged care sector. 

Professor Kelly said the current wave was either at or near its peak, although some states would experience a slight lag due to their situations. 

Labor leader Anthony Albanese criticised the government for failing to plan and prepare for another outbreak.

“(Australians) are entitled to be quite angry and frustrated at the failure of this government to put in place the mechanisms that were required,” he said.

“To put in place proper testing regimes, to look after the workforce (and) to look after (aged care) residents. 

“This prime minister is characterised by always waiting for a problem to become a crisis before he acts.”