Australia could be on the brink of a fifth Covid wave, with cases rising in every state and territory, as a leading public health expert demands government action.
“These numbers are definitely going in the wrong direction,” Bill Bowtell AO, UNSW adjunct professor and health policy expert, told the Daily Mail Australia on Thursday.
“We are going into winter, where people are congregating indoors. The policy we have is not good enough from a public health point of view.’
Professor Bowtell wants the mandate for masks brought back in hospitals and retirement homes and the government pushing for booster vaccines against Covid.
“I think masks should be used in hospitals and elderly care, especially with vulnerable people. I don’t think mask mandates are currently required in public transport and more generally, but we need to be vigilant and assess how cases develop.”
More than 16.5 million Australians will not receive a Covid booster shot in 2023, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said on Thursday.
In the past week alone, nearly 1,500 Covid patients were admitted to hospitals in NSW, which has seen the biggest rise in cases.
“There is a dramatic increase in the number of infections. There have been more than half of hospitalizations in NSW, where there have been about ten deaths a day from Covid in recent weeks.”
Professor Bowtell is an infectious disease expert who was involved in shaping the public health policy that successfully managed the HIV/AIDS crisis in Australia in the 1980s.
Covid cases have seen a ‘dramatic’ surge across the country as more than six months pass since most Australians had a vaccine booster
Professor Bowtell said Australians are not being given booster injections, and as the vaccine loses efficacy without a refill, there is more risk of serious consequences, particularly in the frail and elderly care populations.
“Covid is not a cold or flu, it is a different disease and the health authorities must take responsibility. By saying you’re on your own, you don’t get a grip on the situation.’
While Professor Bowtell wouldn’t be interested in whether he thinks lockdowns should be reintroduced, he was adamant that the government needs to take a more hands-on approach.
‘Certainly, an effort by the government to increase vaccination coverage is necessary.’
“If you say Covid is in the rearview mirror enough, people won’t take action.”
Infectious disease policy expert Professor Bill Bowtell said Covid is not ‘in the rearview mirror’
“There’s that saying – objects in the rearview mirror can be closer than they appear.”
He said a requirement for proper PPE masks in hospitals and elderly care should also be an urgent priority.
“Masks should be used in hospitals and elderly care, especially with vulnerable people.”
“I don’t think mask mandates are required in public transport and more generally, but we need to be vigilant and assess how cases develop.”
‘The air quality and air treatment methods in public buildings also need to be reviewed.’
“There’s no point in waiting for things to get out of hand, we need prevention.”
“Covid didn’t get the memo that it should be gone and that the government should explain what steps it is taking.”
The AMA agrees, warning that more than six months have passed since the majority of Australians have had a Covid booster shot.
An average of 5,517 Covid infections per day were recorded nationwide in May, more than double the average daily number in March.
Influenza cases are also on the rise with 17,277 cases recorded between May 15 and 28, more than double the previous two weeks.
AMA President Steve Robson is also urging Australians to stay up to date on both their Covid booster and flu vaccines, which can be done at the same time.
Every state and territory in Australia has seen a rise in cases in recent weeks
“The era of lockdowns and restrictions is over, so it’s understandable why many people are getting a false sense of security, but the latest data shows the virus is infecting thousands of Australians every day,” Dr Robson said on Thursday.
Taking a covid booster and flu shot at the same time is an effective and safe way to protect against both viruses.
“We are seeing a significant spike in flu and COVID cases, making this a potentially dangerous winter, especially for the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.”
Dr. Robson also urged parents to ensure their children were protected.
“As we know, children under the age of five are not very affected by Covid, but flu can be extremely serious for them, so it is critical that they get their flu shot as soon as possible,” he said.
Epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett says lockdowns will not work to stop the spread of the virus.
“Lockdowns don’t work, they don’t work with Omicron…we would only go back to that if we were absolutely desperate,” she said.
“If we had a variant that caused severe disease in a way we haven’t seen before, then we may have to resort to more forced measures.”
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said it was ‘not likely’ Australia would return to strict Covid restrictions.
“You know, that’s not my decision, but I don’t think (new restrictions are) likely,” Professor Kelly said on Sunrise.
“My advice at this point is to be alert but not afraid – I think that’s a good way to look at it.”