Covid cases on the rise in NSW with a ‘patchwork quilt’ of variants | Health


New South Wales is experiencing a rise in Covid-19 cases, with one expert warning the data indicates early signs of a new wave with a “patchwork quilt” of variants.

NSW Health recorded 8,032 Covid cases in the week to Saturday, an increase of 9.2% from the previous week.

In its latest report, NSW Health noted that cases had “continued to increase” and there was now a “highly mixed group of variants circulating”.

Emergency department presentations for coronaviruses that required an admission fell to 110 from 130 the previous week, according to NSW Health. There were 29 Covid deaths reported that week, although NSW Health said they might not have occurred in the week they were reported.

Prof Alex Martiniuk, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, said the data indicated early signs of a Covid wave, likely with a “patchwork quilt” of variants that all fall into the Omicron family. But she said only a slight uptick has been observed in the data so far.

“We see new waves for a combination of reasons: new variants which are better able to evade our existing vaccine-induced and infection-induced immunity and also waning protection from a vaccine or an infection,” Martiniuk said.

Prof Peter Collignon, a microbiologist at the Australian National University, said if another wave does emerge, it would be nowhere near as bad as surges experienced over the past two years, given most Australians are vaccinated and have already caught the virus.

“We are in a much better position than we were two years ago, but we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Collignon said.

The uptick in cases comes as NSW is also experiencing an increase in cases of the flu and the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), both common in autumn and winter, according to NSW Health.

Last week 603 people were diagnosed with the flu, an increase of 29.1% from the week before. There was also were 572 cases of RSV reported, compared with 336 cases three weeks earlier.

The head of the vaccine and immunisation research group at the Doherty Institute, Prof Terry Nolan, said the flu season lining up with a Covid wave is a concern, particularly for people who are vulnerable or not immunised against both viruses.

“The argument about having a flu as well as a Covid-19 vaccine is as strong this year as in years past,” he said.

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Last month the government made a fifth Covid vaccine available to any Australians over the age of 18 whose previous booster dose or infection was six months ago or longer.

According to the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, the fifth dose is recommended for anyone over the age of 65 and those aged 18 to 64 years who are at risk of severe illness if they catch Covid.

Nolan said the preferred Omicron-specific booster, the Pfizer bivalent BA.4/5, was due to be made available in Australia this week.

“Health officers say the best vaccine is the one you can get your hands on, which is true, but people should be able to get their hands on the newest of them, the BA.4/5,” he said.

Guardian Australia contacted the federal health department for comment on whether the vaccine was now available.

Australians are able to get a dose of the flu vaccine in one arm and the Covid vaccine in the other at the same time. There is no vaccine for RSV yet, but Nolan said there may be one in the next few years.

Clinical trials are under way to vaccinate against both flu and Covid in the same shot, Nolan said, however there is no licensed vaccine yet.


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