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Third Covid-19 wave, record flu cases to smash economy, worsen staff shortages, transport issues

Soaring Covid-19 and flu infections are set to worsen staff shortages and transport issues as health experts warn the true number of virus cases could be more than twice as bad as think.

While Covid death rates have been steadily climbing since March, the perception that the illness is no longer as severe for younger and healthy people has seen restrictions dropped and remaining rules only loosely policed.

But nearly 247,125 Aussies tested positive for Covid in the past week, with New South Wales recording over 11,000 new cases on Saturday. Queensland recorded over 8,000 on Friday, while Victoria had over 6,000 and Western Australia nearly 5,000

Soaring Covid-19 and flu infections are set to worsen staff shortages and transport issues as health experts warn the true number of virus cases could be more than twice as bad as think

Air travel has been one of the most visible sectors impacted by staff shortages whenever passenger numbers spike - such as the current school holidays

Air travel has been one of the most visible sectors impacted by staff shortages whenever passenger numbers spike – such as the current school holidays

There also appears to be potential for rampant virus spread through the casual workforce which has no entitlements to protect it with the pandemic leave disaster payment now expired (pictured ACTU boss Michele O'Neil)

There also appears to be potential for rampant virus spread through the casual workforce which has no entitlements to protect it with the pandemic leave disaster payment now expired (pictured ACTU boss Michele O’Neil)

But the official influenza and Covid case numbers could be less than 40 per cent of the actual picture, according to Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University.

‘With Covid especially, a lot of people are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms, so they continue on with their normal lives, but they can spread it to others,’ Ms Bennett told The Australian.

She said because of constant contact between sick and well workers – some of whom don’t want to stay home because Covid relief payments have ended – Covid and the flu could stay in workplaces ‘for a long time’.

Because of constant contact between sick and well workers - some of whom don't want to stay home because Covid relief payments have ended - Covid and the flu could stay in workplaces 'for a long time'

Because of constant contact between sick and well workers – some of whom don’t want to stay home because Covid relief payments have ended – Covid and the flu could stay in workplaces ‘for a long time’

Fred Harrison, the boss of an independent supermarket chain, Ritchies IGA, described the current impacts of illness on staff levels as 'horrendous' (pictured on the right, Mr Harrison)

Fred Harrison, the boss of an independent supermarket chain, Ritchies IGA, described the current impacts of illness on staff levels as ‘horrendous’ (pictured on the right, Mr Harrison)

This week new health minister Mark Butler warned of a third wave of Covid infections as his department confirmed a record 147,155 new influenza cases in 2022 with 55,101 in the last fortnight alone.

The Health department also confirmed children are most at risk from influenza – especially those aged under nine years old.

‘In 2022 to date, people aged 5–9 years, children aged younger than 5 years, and people aged 10–19 years have the highest [influenza] notification rates. 

Nearly 250,000 Australians have tested positive for Covid in the past week, with states including NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, recording more than 8,000 cases in the past 24 hours (pictured, members of the public walking in Brisbane wearing masks)

 Nearly 250,000 Australians have tested positive for Covid in the past week, with states including NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, recording more than 8,000 cases in the past 24 hours (pictured, members of the public walking in Brisbane wearing masks)

Because of the even greater infectiousness of the now-dominant BA.4 and BA.5 variants, there are major concerns of widespread re-infection that could even lead to mask mandates being reintroduced for indoor spaces.

That is despite evidence showing unless masks are correctly worn – for example over the nose, not under it – they are not effective against the spread of Omicron.

Professor Peter Collignon, an influential infectious diseases physician with the Australian National University, stated on social media last week that masks are not ‘likely’ to work against the Omicron wave. 

The impacts of Covid and flu spread and worker absences is now having a huge impact on the economy, especially because of staff too unwell to work in industries including health, retail, transport and hospitality.

The boss of an independent supermarket chain, Ritchies IGA, described the current impacts of illness on staff levels as ‘horrendous’

‘It is very challenging. We are still at high levels of Covid in our business,’  said Fred Harrison of Ritchies IGA. ‘There’s people with colds and flu, which is another complication.’

Health minister Mark Butler warned of a third wave of Covid infections as his department confirmed a record 147,155 new influenza cases in 2022

Health minister Mark Butler warned of a third wave of Covid infections as his department confirmed a record 147,155 new influenza cases in 2022

Queensland is considering bring back the hated masks mandates in a major U-turn in a bid to stem the worst effects of Covid (pictured, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk removing her mask)

Queensland is considering bring back the hated masks mandates in a major U-turn in a bid to stem the worst effects of Covid (pictured, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk removing her mask)

Air travel has been one of the most visible sectors impacted by staff shortages whenever passenger numbers spike – such as the current school holidays.

Huge airport check-in queues were reported in Melbourne and Brisbane this week and are expected in Sydney with school holidays now started. 

Staff shortages due to illness is one of the main reasons being given for the delays. 

There also appears to be potential for rampant virus spread through the casual workforce which has no entitlements to protect it with the pandemic leave disaster payment now expired.

Until June 30, $450 was given to workers who lost between eight and 20 hours of work and $750 if they lost 20 or more hours. 

The end of those payments on Thursday was strongly criticised by the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

That is despite the fact anyone who tests positive is still required by law to isolate at home for seven days. 

‘This decision will result in workers working while they are sick, which we have known since the first days of the pandemic is a certain way to more rapidly spread the virus,’ said ACTU president Michele O’Neil.

Mr Butler called the shortage of nurses, doctors and aged care workers ‘a crisis’.

‘We are expecting a further wave of COVID over the coming months, so we are seeing a new subvariant, the BA.4 and the BA.5 subvariants take hold here in Australia,’ Mr Butler said.

‘We’ve seen overseas that there is a greater risk of reinfection so if you have had COVID earlier this year, in the first wave over summer there is a risk that you are open to reinfection.’

He urged people who have not had a booster to get one. 

Queensland is tipped to be the first to bring back mask mandates in a bid to stem the tidal wave of infection.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard revealed there had been ongoing talks with his interstate colleagues about mask mandates returning.

‘I can say that nationally, there is increasing pressure,’ he told 4BC’s Peter Fegan.

‘There is a school of thought that we should be mandating masks again.’

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