Return of restrictions grows likely as new COVID-19 wave rises

A rising wave of COVID-19 infections threatening to overwhelm the nation’s hospitals will likely force governments to consider bringing back public health restrictions, a leading epidemiologist says.

On Tuesday New South Wales residents were urged to ensure they had received their booster shot for the virus as the state government backs the introduction of another to top up fading immunity.

The Victorian government extended an official pandemic declaration by another three months, which will give authorities the power to impose measures, such as mask mandates, as required.

University of South Australia professor of biostatistics Adrian Esterman told The New Daily that despite their seeming reluctance, many governments will look to the reintroduction of measures to stop the spread of the virus as pressure grows on the health system.

“None of our governments have got an appetite for bringing out public health measures, some of them are even still taking them off,” Professor Esterman said.

“The only time they are going to do it is when our hospitals really can’t manage.

“We’re actually approaching that time now.

“I don’t think we’re going to have QR codes, lockdowns, or that sort of thing. But governments might reintroduce some face mask mandates on things like public transport, and in retail settings, which I think would be a huge help.”

(Masks are currently mandatory on public transport in all states except Tasmania and the Northern Territory.)

As the BA.4 and the BA.5 subvariants of the virus take hold and drive new infections, new daily COVID cases stand at more than 36,500, federal government figures show.

Australia has now officially recorded 10,000 COVID-19 deaths, three-quarters of which have been since January.

The contemplation of public restrictions comes as health officials also look at expanding eligibility for a second COVID booster as existing immunity wears off.

A second booster is currently only available for older Australians, the immunocompromised and those with underlying health conditions.

Another option understood to be under consideration is a new-generation vaccination recently tested through clinical trials.

COVID vaccination

There has been a push for increased vaccinations as new subvariants appear.

NSW’s chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant said authorities expected the current spike in cases to peak by month’s end or soon after.

“We predict that hospitalised patient levels will be similar to BA.1 in January,” she said.

“There’s lots of other viruses like flu and RSV. That’s a difference to what occurred in January.

“My message to everyone is disregard anything we said about two [doses of the COVID vaccine]; it’s three doses or more.”

About 30 per cent of the eligible population nationwide are yet to receive booster shots. NSW last week voiced support for a new jab to be brought in at a meeting of federal and state health ministers.

Victoria’s pandemic declaration was due to expire before midnight on July 12 but has now been extended until at least October 12.

It allows for orders such as lockdowns, mask wearing and quarantine protocols to be declared by the state government.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Monday: “We’re not doing a mask mandate, but there are discussions happening about urging people in certain situations to wear masks.”

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