'SUPERSPREADER': Expert's grim warning over Christmas holidays

·3-min read

A leading epidemiologist has warned Christmas will be a coronavirus super-spreading event which could push major health systems to the brink.

The University of Melbourne's Tony Blakely believes the festive season will lead to a rise in coronavirus infections in states and territories with the virus.

With more borders expected to be open before December 25, cases are expected alongside high vaccination coverage.

Christmas could be a superspreader event with borders opening. Source: AAP
Christmas could be a superspreader event with borders opening. Source: AAP

"Christmas will be a superspreader event," Professor Blakely told the Seven Network on Tuesday.

'Beyond' what health services can cope with

He said Queensland, which has nominated December 17 as the date to allow quarantine-free arrivals from states and territories with the virus, would initially cope with reopening.

"Unlike us in Victoria, New South Wales and ACT, we've already got the virus, so Christmas may well be a superspreader event that goes beyond what the health services can cope with," he said.

More travel restrictions are beginning to lift, with trips between Canberra and Sydney allowed from November 1.

Scott Morrison talking at a press conference.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had overtaken the United States in vaccinations. Source: Getty

Quarantine-free international travel into NSW will start on the same day, while Australians will be allowed to leave the country without special permission.

WA's hard borders remain in place

Queensland is aiming to keep interstate borders open permanently when it hits 80 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage, expected about a week before Christmas.

Western Australia appears almost certain to retain tough travel restrictions until next year.

The state has the nation's worst vaccination rate with 56.5 per cent of over-16 residents fully protected.

Tasmania, which is on the cusp of 70 per cent double-dose coverage, is holding out on borders until the island hits 90 per cent.

South Australia hasn't confirmed when borders will reopen but Premier Steven Marshall wants to ease restrictions before Christmas.

Australia broke through 85 per cent first-dose vaccination coverage for people aged 16 and above on Tuesday.

Using that age qualification, 69.2 per cent of people are fully vaccinated, putting the 70 per cent milestone within reach.

Australia overtakes the US in vaccinations

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had overtaken the United States in population-wide immunisation coverage.

"We are on the track now to ensure that we have one of the world's highest vaccination rates," he told parliament.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 08: Two team members at Big W prepare the Christmas zone at Westfield Warringah Mall ahead of reopening on October 08, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. COVID-19 restrictions will ease across NSW from Monday, 11 October after the state passed its 70 per cent double vaccination target. Under the state government's Reopening NSW Roadmap, from Monday people who are fully vaccinated will be permitted to have 10 visitors in their homes, and outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people will be permitted. Hospitality, retail stores, gyms and hairdressers will reopen, as well as cinemas, theatres, museums and galleries. Indoor pools will reopen and up to 500 people will be able to attend ticketed outdoor events. Weddings and funerals will be able to have up to 100 people provided all adults have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Churches and places of worship will be permitted to open with no singing. Restrictions will ease further in NSW once the state reaches its next vaccination milestone of 80 per cent of people having received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)
Staff at a Sydney Big W store prepare for Christmas ahead of lockdown lifting across the state. Source: Getty

While the rollout is now surging ahead, the nation remains well behind other developed nations with higher death rates on reopening.

"Sometimes you have to go through a bit of political pain to get it done and get the right outcome," Mr Morrison told colleagues in Canberra.

Health Minister Greg Hunt made a fresh vaccination appeal, with about three million over-16s yet to receive their first jab.

"At some stage, everybody will be exposed to the disease," he told 2CC radio.

"We have to prepare and say nobody's immune. Everybody is ultimately at risk and you protect yourself and your family."

Victoria recorded 1749 new local cases and 11 deaths on Tuesday.

Infections and hospitalisations continue to decline in NSW but the government has warned cases will rise.

There were 273 new local infections and four deaths, while Canberra registered 24 cases.

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