Infectious disease expert Professor Peter Collignon has urged the country to keep the rising wave of COVID-19 hospitalisations “in perspective”.

Although numbers in hospital are increasing, particularly in eastern states, he said the struggles of the healthcare system were more related to staff shortages than overwhelming demand.

“It is a concern because we have a lot of people in hospital and a lot of people in ICU,” Professor Collignon told Today.

A health worker shortage is seeing hospitals struggle with increasing COVID-19 patients. (Wolter Peeters)

“But we need to keep it in perspective. It’s still less than we often see in winter with influenza, for instance, a number of years ago. 

“And it seems to be less of an issue that even six months ago with a proportion of people getting infected going into hospital, because vaccination has been very successful in Australia and that markedly decreases your risk of dying or coming into hospital.”

He said fully vaccinated people probably faced a similar risk from COVID-19 at the moment as they did from the flu.

Infectious disease expert, Professor Peter Collignon says Australian infection numbers could drop in the next week. (Today)

“It’s the one or two million unvaccinated adults we still have who are disproportionately in hospital, disproportionately in ICU, and obviously disproportionately with the Delta strain rather than Omicron, which seems to cause more severe disease,” he said.

Increasing pressure on ambulance services, including calls for less-than-emergency-matters, have also sparked claims the health system is buckling under pressure.

Professor Collignon said people carried “quite reasonable” worries after the severity of the early COVID-19 crisis, and that the shift of thinking around the protection vaccines provided had not taken place yet.

“A lot of us will get COVID over the next year or two,” Professor Collignon said.

Coles Eastgardens

How Australia faced the emergence of the Omicron variant

“We need to avoid it, if we can. But the consequences now for serious disease, which is the main thing that matters, are so much less than a year ago. We need to come to terms with that.”

He also said it was important to look at the reasons for a current dearth of healthcare workers.

As well as January being prime annual leave time, COVID-19 rules have seen thousands of staff forced to isolate.

“Obviously if you’re unwell and you have symptoms, you should not be at work, whether it’s at a supermarket or at a hospital,” he said.

“But providing you haven’t got symptoms and we can do testing, for instance, such as rapid antigen testing, which reflects your infectivity, we may be able to get over that problem.”

In better news, Professor Collignon predicted case numbers should start to flatten in the next week.

” A lot of the cases we are seeing are mainly being spread by people in their 20s and 30s,” he said.

“But that actually, often, is what happened before Christmas or up to New Year. So, as people are moving around less, more on holidays and interacting with large numbers less, I think the numbers will come down.”

Source: 9News

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