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Warning over two dire flu strains: 'We need a circuit breaker'

A horror flu season is sweeping the nation with experts warning of a frightening winter ahead as strained hospitals battle a double-whammy of infections.

After two years of low flu cases due to Covid measures, such as lockdowns, social distancing and hygiene initiatives, a rising number of people are falling ill.

“Queensland, NSW and Victoria are all experiencing very high rates of influenza at the moment, and central Australia is certainly seeing large outbreaks as well,” Professor Ian Barr from the World Health Organisation told the ABC.

“So pretty much two-thirds of the country,”

A medical professional tends to a patient
Hospitals are struggling to cope as flu cases rise across the country. Source: Getty

Queensland announces free flu vaccines

Two strains of influenza are behind the community serge in infections and hospitalisations, which has prompted Queensland to announce free flu vaccinations for all.

Professor Barr says it will make a huge difference.

“I think we need a bit of a circuit breaker here,” he said.

“We’ve had low [influenza] vaccination rates in 2021, and currently we are sitting at 24 percent of the eligible population.”

“With the cases on the rise here, we really need to get people out and get them vaccinated now, not in two or three months’ time.”

In Queensland, cases have jumped 132 per cent in a week, prompting the state government to lift the cost of flu vaccinations.

In a bid to curb the crisis, the free jabs will be available for everyone aged six months to 64-years-old until the end of June.

Currently the vaccine is free for those aged 65 and over.

A woman receives a vaccination
The Queensland government has announced it is covering the cost of flu vaccinations until the end of June. Source: Getty

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has described the $40 million move as a “pre-emptive strike”.

“We have a large number of concerns at the moment because our cases are doubling and escalating quite quickly,” she said.

“We are going to see escalating numbers in our hospitals.”

“We need to make sure we have this preventive measure in place, and I am encouraging all families in Queensland to please take up this offer of getting a free flu vaccination.”

In the past week, cases of influenza A jumped from 1,848 to 4,282 across the state, while more than 150 people were admitted to hospital with influenza, with 10 in intensive care.

Queensland trying to overcome vaccine fatigue

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath warned hospitalisations could reach 400-500 within a fortnight, saying the community hadn’t been exposed to Influenza A for five years.

“We know there is a vaccine fatigue, and I was concerned, and the premier was concerned, that a family of four, two teenagers and parents, thinking about getting a flu vaccine right now, would be paying $160-plus,” she said.

“I don’t want anyone not getting a flu shot this year because they can’t afford it.”

The State Government says the most at-risk demographic to severe illnesses from influenza A is people aged 10-39.

It’s urging Queenslanders to stay home if they’re sick with the flu, and wear face masks if they have symptoms.

Hospitals are already strained with Covid patients and sick staff due to the viruses. Source: Getty
Hospitals are already strained with Covid patients and sick staff due to the viruses. Source: Getty

Hospitals in NSW struggling to cope

This dramatic surge in flu cases, amid the unrelenting pandemic, is putting NSW hospitals under significant pressure, as more staff fall victim to the viruses.

On average, about 2,000 workers are off sick each day, while more than 14,800 flu cases have been reported across the state this year and 3,349 people have been admitted to emergency departments with influenza-like illnesses.

The NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, says “a horror flu season” has “hit NSW earlier and harder than it has for many years.”

“It is absolutely crucial that you go and get your flu vaccine as soon as possible,” he said.

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