Health expert's plea as NSW faces another Covid wave: 'Don't do it to yourself'

A leading epidemiologist has warned NSW is on the precipice of another Covid wave, as the state experiences a massive surge in cases.

The spike in cases comes as restrictions are set further ease in NSW on Wednesday, including masks only being required at airports and on public transport.

UNSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws has warned there are still issues with the "tightening" of areas where Omicron can escape into, and is urging people to continue to wear masks until they've received a booster shot.

Sign in shopping centre saying wear a face mask.
Professor Mary-Louise McLaws said Australians should continue to wear face masks. Source: Getty

"Leaving masks [on] while you're shopping would reduce the possible risk of acquiring this through airborne spread," she said.

Covid tests should be conducted at the airport

NSW Health revealed infections surged on Tuesday, with 804 new cases. Twenty-one of these are the Omicron variant, taking the total cases of the new strain to 85.

Professor McLaws suggested testing international arrivals at the airport to determine right away if they are infectious.

"International arrivals are going home and having to test within 24 hours and that's just not good enough," Professor McLaws told Yahoo News Australia.

"You have to be tested at the border before you actually leave and go into the community."

Line of people wearing masks at an airport.
Professor McLaws recommends Covid tests at the airport for international arrivals. Source: AAP

She told Yahoo News that being double vaccinated doesn't mean you won't spread the virus.

"So rapid antigen tests at the border for everyone while they went through their baggage and then if they test positive, have a rapid PCR test, which can be done by a machine at the airport."

Professor McLaws explains that way it would reduce the problem of not knowing the proportion of people coming through who are immediately infected.

"Then give them rapid action testing to do every day for the next five days and that should increase the knowledge of that traveller about whether or not they're infectious every day," she said.

Push for boosters to be moved up

On Sunday, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that Australians can receive their booster shots five months after receiving their second dose, rather than six months later.

However, Professor McLaws thinks it potentially needs to be moved up further.

"I've been agitating that it needs to be moved to potentially for four and a half months because young adults are more sociable, particularly this time of year," she explained.

Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws at the National Press Club in Canberra in February.
Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws at the National Press Club in Canberra in February. Source: AAP

"You've got to give people that booster before they walk into a high-risk period of low immune immunity from the vaccine."

Professor McLaws said it's important for younger people to be vaccinated as quickly as possible, admitting she's concerned that Australia and the rest of the world have been "slow" to look after young adults.

"They've certainly vaccinated the elderly, and they've looked after the elderly, but the young adults are going to be our future leaders and you don't want them getting long Covid," she explained.

She continued saying you don't have to have had a severe infection to get long Covid.

"It can take 180 days and it can be multiples of features that include depression, anxiety, suicide ideation, abnormal breathing, abdominal symptoms, pain, fatigue and fog brain.

"So don't do it to yourself," she warns. "Be precautious, wear your mask when you go shopping."

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