Why so many Australians are getting sick right now

Australia could be at the edge of a fifth Covid wave, with cases rising in every state and territory as a leading public health expert demands the government take action.

‘These figures are definitely going in the wrong direction,’ Bill Bowtell AO adjunct professor at UNSW and health policy expert, told Daily Mail Australia on Thursday.

‘We’re going into winter, where people gather together indoors. The policies we have are not good enough from a public health point of view.’

Professor Bowtell wants to see the mandate for masks brought back in hospitals and residential aged care settings and a government push to get Covid booster vaccines up.

‘I think masks should be used in hospitals and aged care, especially with vulnerable people. I don’t think at present mask mandates are required on public transport and more generally, but we must be vigilant and assess how cases are trending.’

More than 16.5 million Australians have not received a Covid booster shot in 2023, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) said on Thursday.

In the last week alone, nearly 1,500 Covid sufferers were admitted to hospitals in NSW, which has seen the most severe surge in cases.

‘There is a dramatic rise in infections. There’s been more than half of hospitalisations in NSW where in the previous several weeks ten or so a day have died from Covid.’

Professor Bowtell is an infectious diseases expert who was involved in making the public health policy that successfully brought the HIV/AIDS crises under control in Australia in the 1980s.

Covid cases have seen a ‘dramatic’ surge across the country as more than six months passes since most Australians had a vaccine booster 

Professor Bowtell said Australians are not getting booster shots, and as the vaccine loses its efficacy without top ups, there’s more risk of serious consequences, especially in the vulnerable and aged care populations.

‘Covid is not the cold or flu, it is a different disease, and the health authorities have to take responsibility. Saying you’re on you’re own is not going to get a grip on the situation.’

While Professor Bowtell would not be drawn on whether he thinks any lockdowns should be brought back in, he was adamant the government needs to take a more hands-on approach.

‘Certainly, an effort by the government to get the vaccination rate up is needed.’

‘If you say Covid is in the rearview mirror enough, then people don’t take action.’

Infectious diseases policy expert Professor Bill Bowtell said Covid isn't 'in the rearview'

Infectious diseases policy expert Professor Bill Bowtell said Covid isn’t ‘in the rearview’

‘There’s that saying – objects in the rearview mirror may be closer than they appear.’

He said a requirement for proper PPE masks in hospitals and aged care should also be an urgent priority.

‘Masks should be used in hospitals and aged care especially with vulnerable people.’

‘I don’t think mask mandates are required on public transport and more generally yet, but we must be vigilant and assess how cases are trending.’

‘Air quality and air treatment methods in public buildings also needs to be reviewed.’ 

‘It’s no use waiting until things get out of hand, we need prevention.’

‘Covid didn’t get the memo that its supposed to be gone and the government needs to explain what steps it’s taking.’

The AMA agrees, warning that more than six months have passed since the majority of Australians have had a Covid booster shot.

An average of 5517 Covid infections were being recorded per day across the country for May, more than double the average daily rate in March.

Influenza cases are also on the rise with 17,277 recorded between May 15 and 28, more than double the previous fortnight’s total.

AMA president Steve Robson is also urging Australians to get up to date with both their Covid booster and flu vaccine, which can be done at the same time.

Every state and territory in Australia has seen an uptick in case numbers in the last few weeks

Every state and territory in Australia has seen an uptick in case numbers in the last few weeks

‘The age of lockdowns and restrictions is over, so it’s understandable why many people are falling into a false sense of security, but the latest data shows the virus is infecting thousands of Australians every day,’ Dr Robson said on Thursday.

‘Having a Covid booster and a flu shot at the same time is an effective and safe way of ensuring you are protected from both viruses.

‘We are seeing a significant spike in the number of flu and COVID cases, making this a potentially dangerous winter, particularly for elderly and immunocompromised people.’

Dr Robson also urged parents to ensure their kids were protected.

‘As we know, children under five years of age aren’t badly affected by Covid but influenza can be extremely serious for them, so it is crucial they get their flu shots as soon as possible,’ he said.

Epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett says lockdowns won’t work to stop the spread of the virus. 

‘Lockdowns won’t work, they don’t work with Omicron … we would only go back to that if we were absolutely desperate,’ she said.

‘If we had a variant that was bringing serious illness in a way we haven’t seen before, then we might need to resort to more enforced measures.’

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said it was ‘not likely’ Australia would return to tough Covid restrictions.

‘You know, that’s not my decision, but I don’t think that (fresh restrictions are) likely,’ Professor Kelly said on Sunrise.

‘My advice at the moment is to be alert but not afraid – I think that would be a good way to look at it.’

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