Masks for 'years' in Victoria COVID fight

·3-min read

Victorians will be encouraged to wear masks indoors for years to come, the state's health chief says, despite the third Omicron COVID-19 wave appearing to have passed its peak.

Daily case numbers in Victoria have fallen by 10 per cent over the past week, indicating the state may be over the worst of its BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variant infections.

"We look to be on the downslope," Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told reporters on Monday.

Modelling prepared by the Burnet Institute forecast COVID-related hospital cases for the current wave to peak between 900 and 1000 in early August.

But Professor Sutton said COVID-19 hospital numbers appear to be stabilising or falling, with the seven-day rolling average dropping to 811 from 831 last week.

Older Victorians are faring worse than in previous waves, accounting for a greater proportion of hospital cases.

Of those in Victorian hospitals with COVID-19, 49.2 per cent of people are aged 75 and over, compared with 33.4 per cent for the first Omicron wave peak, and 17.3 per cent during the Delta wave.

Their over-representation in the hospital data has pushed up mortality rates, Prof Sutton said.

While sluggish fourth dose vaccine take-up and mask use are factors, he said an increased number were catching the virus for the first time.

"When you've got a very infectious variant like BA.4/5 it can sweep through those older populations," Prof Sutton said.

According to the modelling, increased mask use from July to October is predicted to reduce the state's total number of infections by 10 to 20 per cent, hospital admissions by 15 to 23 per cent, and deaths by five to 14 per cent.

Despite the peak of the COVID-19 wave passing, and flu season being largely "done and dusted", Prof Sutton said Victorians can expect masks to be recommended indoors for "years".

"We are facing another new variant and another wave every three, four, five months," he said.

"It'll only be if we get an intranasal vaccine, a pan-coronavirus vaccine that works for all variants, and it stops us getting infected in the first place and does not wane in its effectiveness very much that we can see an end to this pandemic and all of the associated challenges."

Many people in east Asian nations have been wearing masks for 20 years as part of their day-to-day lives and Prof Sutton is keen for Victorians to follow suit.

Health authorities estimate only 45 per cent of total infections are presently being diagnosed and recorded.

There have now been about 50,000 reinfections this year.

Roughly 10 per cent of Victoria's current cases are reinfections, Prof Sutton said, placing a greater burden on the health system and people at greater risk of long COVID.

Victoria recorded a further three COVID-related deaths and 7678 new cases on Monday, its third straight day of sub-10,000 infections.

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