ACT records 18 new Covid-19 cases
A whopping 98.3% of those aged 12 and over in the ACT are fully vaccinated.
Health experts are urging Australians to wear face masks and opt for outdoor gatherings as Covid-19 infections continue to climb in the lead-up to Christmas.
Our friends at AAP have the story:
Infectious diseases pediatrician Robert Booy doesn’t expect infections to fall until February after an anticipated January peak fuelled by holiday travel.
“There are so many simple things we have been doing already that work that we can continue doing without too much fuss,” he told the Nine Network on Sunday.
“We don’t have to be locked down, but we can observe simple measures like masking indoors, like spending more time outdoors where it is ventilated, social distancing by a metre to two metres.”
Booy thinks QR codes should be continued or brought back to help control the spread and avoid a return to lockdowns.
“Even then, we can do things like a partial lockdown where people can get on with their lives, but they limit the amount of time in pubs, clubs, hotels and the like,” he said.
Brad Hazzard is asked about calls from the Australian Medical Association for NSW to reintroduce some restrictions, due to the state’s rapid rise in cases.
AMA president Omar Khorshid told ABC News yesterday: “It’s very bizarre timing from the New South Wales government to pull out a mask mandate just when you are seeing an incredible spike in cases that matches what’s happening around the world.”
Look, again, the AMA, I … respect their views, I have heard their views, particularly the federal AMA. But I have also heard a range of other epidemiologists and I get to see more when I want you TV programs at night. I will take the advice of New South Wales Health and weigh up all the other issues that we have to add … At the moment I don’t seem to be, I don’t see any reason to jump down that path.
Health minister Brad Hazzard says the figures that come out of other countries are “not naturally analogous to our state”. But he says the state is on “high alert”:
At the moment the figures here are very low and so we are also looking at modelling that is coming from overseas. NSW is in a different position at the moment. We are in summer, so we are not seeing the huge uptake of what you would expect anyway of people, for a variety of other reasons other than just the … variants we are dealing with at the moment. It is hard to distinguish or understand the full impact until we see more weeks of experience in what is going on here in New South Wales as to whether or not it is going to really lift our hospital intake or not. We are on high alert, as you would expect us to be.
Dominic Perrottet is asked what the downsides to mandating masks are, given that doctors and nurses are calling for this.
The premier says authorities “strongly encourage it” but won’t go so far as to issue a mandate, saying: “There’s always different views, there’s always different debates.”
He does suggest that mask mandates may be reintroduced in the future, especially as Australia heads into winter or as new variants emerge:
When we believe there’s evidence in front of us we need to potentially tighten restrictions we will. And it’s almost certainly as we move through, as we see overseas, as they head into the winter months, certain challenges will come our way. There will be curve balls, certain things we don’t expect. There’s almost certainly to be other variants that may come our way, and we’ll need to respond.
What will your threshold to reintroducing restrictions? What would it you take for you to do that?
We’ll look at that. What is key to us as well is personal responsibility. And you know, we have mandated masks in high-risk settings. We strongly encourage the use of that. Everybody today is responding incredibly well. We monitor the situation.
ICU presentations are the key metric for us. We want to make sure that our health system has the capacity as we move through this next challenge of the pandemic. And I’m incredibly confident as premier that our health system is the strongest in the country. That we can deal with the challenges that come our way.
‘It’s time for calm,’ Dominic Perrottet says
One journalist points out that the NSW government’s response to Omicron is very different to how authorities, like the UK and the Netherlands, are responding. They ask Dominic Perrottet whether he is doing enough.
The premier says he thinks NSW is, and has always, struck the right balance. He says that state is focused on getting people vaccinated:
What has been our leading aspect here in New South Wales has been the effort that everyone has undertaken to get vaccinated. We have not only the highest vaccination rates in the country but in the world. That enables us to learn to live alongside the virus.
If you look over the last two years, to be in a position where we’re having incredibly low death rates and, in addition to that, our economy is strong, and we have been able to open up in a way that keeps people in work and allows them to provide for their families. And we’ll continue that approach. We’ll continue to monitor the situation …
It’s a time for calm. But it’s also an important time to go out and get your booster shot.
Health minister Brad Hazzard clarifies that NSW saw 57,000 booster shots given by state health facilities alone this last week. This is up from 15,000 doses the previous week:
By the end of January, we expect that 40% of all people who have been vaccinated … I think we were all hoping for a really good year next year. I think we can still hope for a good year next year. We need to get our booster shots and take the basic precautions. This virus is now this new variant, Omicron.
We can’t be sure we won’t have other variants along the way, but the basic rules apply. If you have symptoms, stay home. Don’t put your family and workmates at risk. If you have any symptoms, go and get tested. Maintain that social distancing and, of course, if you’re in close proximity to people inside and it’s a big group of people, consider wearing a mask.
We also have to live our lives in amore normal way coming into 2022. We’ll continue to strike the balance.
Dominic Perrottet adds that the NSW first-dose vaccination rate is now at 94.9% (it is unclear whether this is for those 16 and older, or those 12 and older).
NSW premier Dominic Perrottet is speaking, and is urging residents to get their booster shot, if eligible. More than 50,000 people in the last week came forward for it, he says:
We said vaccination is key to ensuring we’re able to open up as quickly as possible, as safely as possible. And to see so many people go out and receive that booster shot, particularly as we go into Christmas, has been incredibly pleasing.
We are standing by to hear from NSW premier Dominic Perrottet.
I’ll bring you the updates as we have them.
Finally, Greg Hunt is asked about data emerging from the UK health security agency that shows AstraZeneca is weak at preventing a symptomatic infection from Omicron (based on a very small sample size).
He is asked whether booster timeframes could, or should, be shortened for those who had the AstraZeneca vaccine:
There’s lots of information coming in. Much of it preliminary … Our advice remains that all the vaccines provide clear and strong protection against serious illness and loss of life.
In terms of Omicron, there’s emerging data. I haven’t had any indication at this point in time of a vaccine-specific set of booster timeframes. So what we do is just as we’ve done with the TGA … with Atagi, we encourage and really defend and protect their independence. And sometimes we’ll see others with a medical expert background or others with just a passing medical background give differing views. But by having the two outstanding bodies, one the regulatory agency, the other the vaccine advisory body, as strong and independent bodies that make their assessments, we get the best advice.
Greg Hunt said none of the states or territories have indicated that there will be changes to Covid-19 restrictions in the lead-up to Christmas or in 2022:
The direction of Australia is overwhelmingly towards opening up. Obviously, seven states and territories are now reunited and Western Australia has set their timeframe. So, it’s that direction towards opening up which has been set.
But Hunt acknowledged that “individual measures might be adjusted from time to time depending on circumstances”.
Federal minister Greg Hunt said that it is up to states to “make their own decisions” about whether to shorten the wait time between a second dose and a booster shot beyond the five months that ATAGI has advised.
The Guardian reported yesterday that New South Wales health officials are considering breaking with commonwealth advice by shortening the Covid vaccine booster interval to four months, amid concern about spread of the Omicron variant.
Deputy chief medial officer Dr Sonya Bennett responds to a question about the UK view that there are two pandemics – Delta and Omicron:
We have always considered Omicron would be more transmissible … It’s hard for both ourselves and even countries around the world to completely understand what proportion of their cases are Omicron versus Delta. There is a belief that the majority are Omicron in the UK. But it’s very difficult through testing to completely confirm that.
That just underscores the fact there’s still a lot of uncertainty about this particular variant … we continue to watch all the emerging evidence and it will adjust as necessary …
For us it’s about focusing on what we as a community can do now, whilst we enjoy that time with family and friends at Christmas. And it’s a combination of vaccination and those other measures that I mentioned, such as mask wearing and being Covid-safe.
Greg Hunt is asked whether there is going to be a problem with the booster rollout, given that a lot of GP clinics close over the Christmas period.
The journalist asks whether the states should ramp up their vaccination clinics to compensate.
The health minister says the system has shown it can “ramp up from 500,000 [doses] a week … to now over1m in the last seven days”:
The second thing, though, is we [prepared] extremely large volumes of vaccines to cover the Christmas period, over 5m vaccines are in place, with another 2m-plus being expected to be delivered in the lead-up to Christmas and then in the days beyond. And then a third thing is that the states do have a very important role. We’ve been in contact with the states and territories, encouraging them to continue their state clinics.
Hunt adds that the role of pharmacies is also increasing, and that they’ve gone from administering 15,000 doses a day to more than 50,000 on weekdays.
Sonya Bennett seems to suggest that we should have mask mandates but doesn’t go so far as to call on the NSW government to reintroduce them.
Instead, she says that people should act before mandates come in:
I think we know mask mandates work. We know mandates work generally. But I think my plea to the community is we don’t need to wait for mandates to tell us what is sensible to do. That particularly applies to masks. They’re simple, we’re used to it. Most people around the country have worn masks at some stage. It’s a simple, easy, effective tool to continue to use when necessary. I ask the community to consider that they use that. That they make their own choice to use a mask when necessary.
Greg Hunt is asked whether, given the fact that the Netherlands is going into lockdown, there is a chance we’ll see more state-wide lockdowns in Australia.
The journalist also asks whether New South Wales will be prepared to bring back its mask mandate and QR codes?
Hunt says what is going on in the Netherlands is “quite different to Australia, as well as the fact they’re going into a cold European winter”:
In fact, they’re already there. But they’re going into the depths of winter with a vastly higher case rate and, sadly, having had a vastly higher loss of life. So a different country, different circumstances.
Sonya Bennett says that, despite Australia’s high vaccination rate, the rate of transmission for Omicron is still concerning.
She urges people to wear masks while doing their Christmas shopping:
It was really pleasing to see, you know, a large proportion of people still wearing masks. But probably not large enough. It’s a simple thing we can all do.
In saying that, she admits that she forgot to wear her mask at the shops:
I didn’t have it, but it reminded me that in the future I will certainly be taking a mask to anywhere that’s crowded, particularly around Christmas time, because it’s an effective, another effective layer of protection.