Doctor warns of Omicron Christmas catastrophe: 'Sleepwalking into disaster'

·5-min read

A Sydney health expert says NSW is "sleepwalking" into a Covid disaster, speculating that Christmas gatherings can turn into superspreader events that will culminate in an overwhelming amount of hospitalisations in January.

Dr Dan Suan, a clinic immunologist and researcher at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research said if NSW residents don't take "immediate" action to curb the spread of Omicron before Christmas, the results could be devastating.

"Thousands of lives are at risk again," Dr Suan explained in a video posted to Facebook on Sunday.

"Only together can we crush the Omicron transmission and prevent a catastrophe in January."

Dr Suan with airpods in wearing black shirt in a screenshot from video explaining why Sydney could be in danger over Christmas.
Dr Suan warned Christmas could be a superspreader event in Sydney resulting in hundreds of hospitalisations. Source: Facebook

Entire city at risk of catching Omicron

Dr Suan pointed out key differences between the Omicron variant and previous strains of the virus, the first one being Omicron is more contagious than Delta as it can stay in the air much longer and one person can infect many more people.

The immunologist then pointed out Omicron can infect "virtually everyone."

"The only people that are really, really protected from Omicron infection are people who have a normal immune system and have been tripled vaccinated," he explained.

"Even though we've hit 95 per cent double vaccinated, which protects us against Delta, virtually the entire city population is at risk of catching it."

Dr Suan also said it's important to remember they don't know the severity of the strain yet.

"It's so early, we're not 100 per cent certain what the impact of Omicron is on disease severity. 

"Our best estimate at the moment is that the vaccines dropped from giving you about 90 per cent protection down to about 70 per cent."

Dr Suan also reminded people about the lack of hospital beds and staff shortages in healthcare if Omicron continues to spread.

10,000 cases in the community post-Christmas due to loss of efficacy

Dr Suan highlighted the jump in hospital numbers that could occur with the vaccination efficacy dropping from 90 to 70 per cent before boosters.

He used a hypothetical loosely on the current case numbers of 2000 to explain what the jump in cases could mean for hospitals.

"If no one was vaccinated and 2000 people were infected, we would expect 10 per cent or 200 people to come to hospital, but with people vaccinated it brings it from 200 to 20."

"If the vaccine efficacy rate dropped from 90 to 70, then the number goes up to 60... We now have 60 people needing to hospital," he explained.

"By January, if 2000 people give you 60 [hospital] admission, 25,000 people will give you 750.

"The loss of that efficacy caused by the variant is still going to cause a massive problem."

Five things that need to be done in the next six days

Dr Suan urged NSW residents to do five things over the days leading up to Christmas to ensure there's not a catastrophic outbreak in the new year.

We need to put masks on back indoors, Dr Suan said.

"Anytime you're indoors, you should be wearing [a mask]," he explained. "This is an extremely contagious airborne disease."

Number two, reconsider your events for the upcoming week.

"I hate to cancel things, especially important things, but I'm going to really think through whether I have to do them or not," he explained.

Cars lined up at a drive through Covid testing clinic in Bondi, NSW.
Dr Suan warned of a 'hospital-based disaster' in January unless immediate action is taken now. Source: AAP

The third thing Dr Suan urged people to do was get tested as soon as any symptoms develop.

"You must get tested and isolate," he said. "If you test positive unfortunately the government has removed contact tracing, so you now have to do your own contact tracing."

He then reminded anyone due for their booster shot to go and get it as soon as possible.

"Number five, you need to talk to your family about Christmas," he said. "Just think about who is coming. You need to talk about how to make Christmas Covid safe.

Dr Suan suggested moving Christmas outdoors if possible to make it safer and asking guests to get tested or do a rapid antigen test before arriving.

"We've been through so much, everyone has sacrificed so much we've worked so hard [and] what I'm telling you is that we're at risk of throwing it all away now because the Omicron is so contagious it can escape undetected.

"The country crushed the primary wave in March 2020 and we need to do exactly the same thing to crush Omicron in the next week so that when we walk into Christmas Day, we don't walk into the scenario where thousands of people are meeting up with their family creating a superspreader event that will be a disaster in general."

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