An infectious diseases expert with a track record of alarming but wrong predictions about Covid-19 believes the virus will always be a threat to Australia.
UNSW Professor Raina McIntyre said the disease will never become endemic – a term that refers to a contagious illness which is always around but does not spread out of control.
Instead she fears the virus may continue to cause severe illness and death on a large scale and wants Australia ‘to do whatever we can to protect people’.
UNSW Professor Raina McIntyre (pictured) said the disease will never become endemic which would mean it is always around but does not spread out of control
‘Case numbers can rise very quickly, requiring surge capacity in the health system,’ she told Nine News.
‘If case numbers overwhelm the health system, people who could have survived with oxygen or other therapy are unable to get into hospital and the death rates rises.
‘The death rates we quote depend on everyone who needs hospital care receiving it.’
In February 2020 Professor McIntyre predicted that 400,000 Australians would die of Covid but to date there have been 2,266 deaths.
She also wrongly forecast that Sydney’s Northern Beaches outbreak over Christmas 2020 would cause 3,000 cases by January 8 but there were only 11 new cases in NSW that day.
Professor McIntyre’s belief that Covid will remain an ever-present danger contradicts former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth who believes Covid this year will evolve into being a low-mortality seasonal virus like influenza.
Australia has suffered a spike in cases since the turn of the New Year (pictured are revellers in Sydney on NYE) – but the number of patients on ventilators has gone down
‘The pandemic will come to an end in 2022 because the virus will become endemic, and that means that Covid will circulate in the community,’ he told 2GB on Monday.
‘It’s circulating already in the eastern states so, to an extent, we’re already there. It’s not a very convenient time to be having very high case numbers but there never was a convenient time.’
Dr Coatsworth had made the same claims in an op-ed he wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday.
He stated that vaccination jabs and the spread of the mild Omicron strain will finally make the world immune to Covid.
‘We will live our lives again as part of the incredibly social and incurably optimistic human species that thrives on this planet,’ he wrote.
‘2022 will be the year the pandemic ends. It could even be sooner than we think.’
Disease expert Paul Griffin also predicts Covid will become endemic but warned we may need variant-specific booster shots to develop herd immunity.
‘Most of us are thinking it will be endemic and here to stay, but exactly what that looks like is dependent on what the next variants are like,’ he told Nine.
Aussies are still lining up to get tests in large numbers. Pictured: A testing queue at Mascot near the centre of Sydney
Victoria recorded three deaths and 8,577 new infections on Monday – jumping from 1,999 just seven days ago and 7,172 cases on Sunday. Pictured: Concert-goers in Melbourne
The debate came as the number of Australians on ventilators with Covid dropped over three weeks despite a surge in cases.
A total of 51 Covid patients are currently ventilated, down from 54 on December 15, Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Monday.
Mr Hunt said this helped explain why Australia’s hospital system was coping well with increased cases which hit 32,216 on Sunday after a record 35,208 on Saturday.
‘The fact that we now have a disease which right around the world is leading to more cases, but to vastly fewer severe cases… is an immensely heartening development,’ he said in a press conference on Monday.
‘There are challenges in every phase of this pandemic. But Australia has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and one of the lowest rates of death and loss of life in the world.’
There are currently 148 patients in ICU with Covid across the whole nation and Morrison is so confident in the hospital system that he has ruled out more lockdowns.
Asked if Australia would need a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to stop the surge in cases, Mr Morrison told the Today Show: ‘No. Because it is not about numbers.
Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth (pictured) doubled down on his claim the pandemic will end this year because Covid will become a seasonal virus like flu
Scott Morrison says the hospital system is well-placed to cope with rising cases. Pictured: Nurses at a testing clinic in Wyndham Vale, Melbourne
‘I keep making this point. This is a different type of variant which requires an evolution of our response.’
‘The days of lockdown are gone. We’re going forward. We’re not going back. That’s not how you manage this virus.
‘There will be high case numbers but the severity is a lot less so you focus on your hospital system.
‘I think you’re seeing that. We’ve got 51 people on ventilators around the country. 148 people in ICU.’
Mr Morrison said the vast majority of people who catch the Omicron strain, which was discovered in November in South Africa, have a mild illness that can be managed at home.
‘If you are in hospital at the moment, the primary reason for that is you weren’t vaccinated. The second reason is you’ve got Delta, not Omicron.
‘With Omicron, there is only a very small number of cases that are in hospital,’ he said.
‘We’re now dealing with a very different virus. We’ve really got to change the way we think about it and that’s why talking about case numbers now is really not the point.’
Senior ICU Registered Nurse Gabby McLoughlin (left) caring for COVID-19 positive patient Dr Isaac S Mordecai in the ICU of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney in July
On Monday NSW recorded 20,794 new cases with 1,204 in hospital and four deaths.
An additional 12 people were admitted into ICU in hospitals across NSW overnight – up from 83 patients the day previous.
Sunday marked the first time there were more than 1,000 Covid patients in NSW hospitals since October 2. The most ever recorded was 1,268 on September 21.
Victoria recorded three deaths and 8,577 new infections on Monday – jumping from 1,999 just seven days ago and 7,172 cases on Sunday.
There are 491 patients in Victorian hospitals – up from 472 on Sunday – with 56 people in ICU and 24 on ventilators.
Monday’s numbers come after it was revealed about half of patients counted in NSW’s daily Covid hospitalisation tally are not in hospital because of the virus.
Some have simply testing positive for Covid following routine checks after being admitted for broken bones or labour pains.
Scott Morrison offers an extraordinary excuse for his refusal to make $10 rapid antigen tests free for everyone – but does he have a point?
Australians must continue to pay for rapid Covid tests because ‘we can’t go round and make everything free,’ according to Scott Morrison.
The UK government has been mailing free rapid tests to people’s homes since April but Mr Morrison has refused to adopt a similar model in Australia over cost fears.
Instead rapid tests are free at testing centres but cost at least $10 per swab at pharmacies and supermarkets which are low on stock due to a lack of supply.
Members of the public queue in their cars for a COVID-19 PCR test at the Mascot Laverty Pathology Drive-through Clinic in Sydney on Monday
Several medical experts have called for rapid tests to be free for everyone, including University of Sydney infectious disease specialist Robert Booy who said free tests ‘could make a real difference to controlling disease.’
But in an interview on Sunrise on Monday morning, the Prime Minister said this was a bad idea.
‘We’re at another stage of this pandemic now where we just can’t go round and make everything free. We have to live with this virus. This isn’t a medicine, it’s a test. And so there’s a difference between those two things,’ he said.
Australia’s gross debt is expected to reach a record $1.2 trillion by 2024-25 after huge pandemic spending including $100billion on the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.
The Prime Minister is keen to avoid further cost blowouts, saying on Monday he wants to ‘take that pressure off the budget’.
But Mr Morrison said he was working with states and territories to reduce the price for vulnerable groups with ‘concessional access to pensioners and others’.
The cost of subsidising the tests will be shared 50/50 with states and territories.
The Prime Minister also said he would not make tests free because he didn’t want to deter private companies from ordering them so they could make money.
‘The private market, whether it’s in the big warehouse pharmacies or the other pharmacies or the supermarkets, they can now go and stock their shelves with confidence that they won’t be undercut by the government,’ he told the Today show.
The comments sparked outrage from political opponents who demanded free tests.
A Brisbane resident lines up for a test on Sunday
Independent Senator Rex Patrick wrote on Twitter: ‘The case for widespread free RATs is clear, but Scott Morrison says ”you can’t just make everything free”. He didn’t say that to big business as they took $billions in JobKeeper money they didn’t need.’
The boss of Australia’s biggest trade union, Sally McManus, also slammed the PM, writing: ‘What’s the price of people’s health?’
Labor leader Anthony Albanese stopped short of demanding free tests, instead calling for a means-tested system.
‘People who can’t afford them should be given them,’ he said.
However, NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham backed the PM’s position, saying the tests would be over-used if handed out for free.
‘The problem with unlimited free Rapid Antigen Tests, however, is over-use,’ he said.
‘The level of public fear and panic will have some people, the Covid Curiosity cohort, testing every few hours.’
The need for rapid tests has become urgent as testing queues in Melbourne and Sydney stretched to five hours over the past week due to Queensland’s entry test requirements, clinic closures and more people wanting a negative result before visiting family over the Christmas holidays.
But there is a scarcity of supply after state governments failed to order the tests early enough.
AUSTRALIA’S NEW COVID RULES
Who should get a PCR test? Anyone who has symptoms or who has got a positive rapid antigen test
New definition of close contact: Someone who has spent at least four hours in a household or a care facility with a positive case. Workplaces do not count.
New isolation period: Positive people and close contacts must isolate for seven days or 10 in SA. This is regardless of whether the close contacts test negative or not
Timing: NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT implemented the new rules on New Year’s Eve.
Tasmania followed on January 1 while the Northern Territory and Western Australia will not adopt the scheme until they get more Covid cases in the weeks ahead.
Source: Daily Mail