A leading epidemiologist expects NSW to soon face the same Omicron emergency as the UK, with cases to soar “further and faster” over the coming weeks.
Professor Adrian Esterman from the University of South Australia told Yahoo News the state could see 4,000 daily cases by Christmas due to eased restrictions and festive celebrations.
“It could be lower, it could be much higher but that’s my best guess given the current rate of growth,” Professor Esterman said after the state recorded 1360 new cases on Wednesday, the largest tally since September.
“This is just going to keep ramping up and case numbers will rise further and faster. It is a bit of a concern.”
It comes amid a dire prediction from Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who told reporters that daily cases will likely skyrocket to 25,000 by the end of January, based on modelling from South Africa and the UK.
"We may not get to 25,000 cases every day – but we could."
The number of daily cases in NSW could overtake Victoria by the end of the week, according to Professor Estermen.
"It depends on Victoria and how well they are going but I wouldn't be surprised if we saw 1,500 daily cases in NSW within a weeks time."
Victoria recorded 1405 new cases on Wednesday — the state’s biggest increase in a fortnight.
Australia to face Omicron emergency
Professor Estermen said there was no doubt that Australia would see the same “staggering” Omicron growth as the UK, where the new variant of concern will soon overtake the dominant Delta strain.
“What we don’t know is how severe it is,” he said while slamming NSW for easing restrictions for the unvaccinated.
“The government should have held off until we knew more about Omicron. There could be more Omicron out there than we know.
Prof Estermen said now NSW had reached high rates of vaccination, it was up to public health measures to “keep things at bay".
“Same with face masks, they are effective, why on earth would you remove any face mask mandate? It’s not a sensible approach.”
Most Covid rules were scrapped in NSW on Wednesday, with no caps on visitors in homes, hospitality venues, or outdoor gatherings.
For the first time in three months, the unvaccinated are also free to enjoy many of the same freedoms as fully vaccinated people.
Long Covid cause for concern
Professor Estermen said hospitalisations wouldn’t rise as rapidly as cases but warned long Covid could become a “major issue”.
“We might still see hospitalisations go up but I don’t expect them to go up at the same rate,” he explained.
“I’m worried about long Covid, we don’t know a huge amount about it. That will end up being a major issue.”
Unlike NSW, numbers in Victoria are slowly creeping up. 1405 cases overnight with 3 lives lost. The 7-day moving average is 1218, and the Reff is up slightly to 1.05. Cases in hospital steady at 365. At this rate, we should expect NSW to overtake Victoria very soon.
— Professor Adrian Esterman (@profesterman) December 14, 2021
Long Covid is a term to describe the effects of the virus that continue for weeks or months beyond the initial illness.
“Brain fog, neurological problems, clotting. Every organ can be affected,” he said.
And with research suggesting current vaccines are weak against Omicron, Professor Estermen said booster shots will be “critical” going forward and called for the time frame between doses to be slashed again to three or four months.
He also hopes other states will learn from NSW and will take a more cautious approach to relaxing restrictions.
Fears about health system strain
Top doctors raised grave concerns about the “long-term ramifications” on the health system from the pandemic.
As cases escalate again in NSW, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) is also anticipating hospital presentations to increase for issues other than Covid.
“As the Delta outbreak in Greater Sydney and across NSW grew this winter, the system pivoted to look after acute COVID-care patients which put a unique strain on hospitals across the State,” AMA NSW President Dr Danielle McMullen said.
“We know many people delayed care for serious issues that will likely become more apparent in 2022 and have long-term ramifications for the system.
“Our message is – prepare now by bolstering workforce numbers. We need more healthcare workers to deal with non-COVID care issues, particularly, increasing rates of cancer, stroke, heart attack, and diabetes,” Dr McMullen said.
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