Former deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth is encouraging older Australians to get their Covid diagnosis early as the country’s latest wave of infections continues to soar.
Dr Coatsworth made the plea while speaking to 2GB on Friday morning ahead of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s snap meeting with state and territory leaders on Monday in response to the winter Covid wave.
"If you’re in that vulnerable group, if you’re a pensioner and you’re over 70, you need to be diagnosed early for this to be eligible for the antiviral therapy," Dr Coatsworth said.
He applauded the NSW Government’s decision to provide free rapid antigen tests (RATs) to its most vulnerable residents until the end of October.
Antiviral treatments, which were made available to those over 70 and people with severe diseases on Monday, need to be taken in the first five days of an infection to work, Dr Coatsworth said.
Taking them could lift some of the heat off of hospitals, which are seeing a rapid rise in Covid patient admissions.
More than 47,000 cases and 78 deaths were recorded in Australia on Thursday with 4512 people in hospital. There are 139 people in the ICU and 39 of them are on ventilators.
Dr Coatsworth also urged older Aussies or people with relatives over the age of 65 to get their Covid vaccine booster shots.
Despite serious concerns about the new highly-contagious BA.5 Omicron variant causing the latest surge in infections, the former deputy chief medical officer said there is no evidence the strain "is going to kill more people".
While reinfections are very likely, the number of people on ventilators with BA.5 is "stable".
In the last seven days, the number of people on ventilators across Australia has risen from 31 to 39, according to the Australian Department of Health and Aged Services.
Earlier this week, experts warned Australia's latest Covid wave is still roughly four weeks away from peaking, with Health Minister Mark Butler saying "millions" of people will be infected in that time.
Government under pressure to reinstate $750 payments
The prime minister has defended the government's decision to end pandemic leave payments for workers ahead of the national cabinet meeting.
The government is under pressure to reinstate the $750 emergency isolation payments for employees unable to work after coming down with the virus.
The scheme concluded at the end of June, but Mr Albanese said the payments would not return due to budget pressures.
He said many employees would already be receiving payments from their workplace should they be forced to isolate.
"The idea no one is getting sick leave at the moment is not the case," he told reporters on Friday.
"Good employers are recognising people are continuing to work from home while they have Covid and receiving payments through that.
"The (pandemic leave) payments were put in place by the former government with an end date, a decision they made at the time."
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Thursday said she was keen to discuss the pressure on the health care system from rising cases and hospitalisations with her counterparts.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet agreed with her, she said.
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