Connect with us

COVID-19 in Australia

Covid: Another wave

Published

on

As we move into summer, more than two years since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the words “new wave” are probably the last thing anyone wants to hear. Yet it is true that recent UK data (as well as data from Florida and other places) indicates that sublineages of the Omicron variant, BA.4 and BA.5, are kicking off a new wave of cases. With the pandemic no longer dominating the news in the way it once did, it’s worth taking stock of where we are and what needs to be done.

Looking over the past two years, and across different places, a wave of Covid-19 cases every three months seems to be the pattern. So it’s not surprising that this is happening again, and we should expect another wave this winter. While the idea of the disease circulating might be anxiety-provoking, we now have a wealth of scientific knowledge and tools to deploy. The focus should be on what these cases mean for long Covid and for hospitalisations. Plus, there’s good news: new research indicates Omicron is indeed milder than Delta by a substantial amount in terms of hospitalisations and deaths.

Of course, it would be better to avoid getting Covid-19 once, or repeatedly, given the increasing number of negative health outcomes the disease is linked to. The challenge is how best to do that, balanced against the costs entailed in avoiding Covid completely: the vector for this disease is other humans who we (largely) enjoy seeing, being close to, or must see for work reasons. Humans are social beings, and for many people a large part of our quality of life is mixing with others, as seen by the rapid return to festivals, celebrations and social events.+

Forgive me if you’d heard this one before, but masks and ventilation are still important measures we can take. Wearing a medical-grade mask is an effective way of protecting yourself from respiratory infections, especially in crowded settings. That said, we also need to recognise that they are costly, and can be uncomfortable if worn for long stretches of time. In addition, masks interfere with wanting to see people’s faces, engage with their emotions and interact at an intimate level; child specialists have raised concerns about the impact on child speech and emotional development. Indoor ventilation is important in reducing transmission. However, ventilation alone is unlikely to stop a wave of infections: you only have to look at Shanghai and the difficulty Chinese authorities there have had in stopping the spread of Omicron in a highly controlled lockdown setting.

Another important concern is long Covid, which can cause months of illness and suffering. We still have no clear indication of who is likely to get this condition and who will recover quickly. Here, a deeper understanding of the biological mechanisms and treatments is vital. How can we support recovery and rehabilitation? Research has shown that people who were fully vaccinated were half as likely to get long Covid as those who had one or no vaccines.

And what does this mean for winter, when we expect the next wave to hit? While vaccines and antivirals have pushed the hospitalisation rate down, it’s equally important to invest in nurses, doctors, hospital staff and beds. After all, the NHS is already stretched this summer. The consequence will be unnecessary and preventable deaths, and staff working in difficult conditions unless the health service gets what it needs.

Public health is about all the factors that help someone live a healthy and happy life. And while strong opinions continue to be voiced on whether we can “live with Covid” or not, the fact is that almost every country on this planet is learning to manage this disease among the plethora of other problems that we face as humans. The situation is complex with no simple fix. No, we haven’t solved Covid, but we are getting smarter and better at managing this disease.

Continue Reading

COVID-19 in Australia

Paying for hotel quarantine in Queensland

Published

on

By

Nathan Kelly is a single parent waiting to hear if he’ll be relieved of a $5,600 hotel quarantine bill from Queensland Health — from a stay a year and a half ago.

He and his family travelled to Sydney to be with relatives in December 2020, after the mother of his children died suddenly.

When COVID-19 broke out in the northern beaches and Queensland shut its borders, they were denied a request to isolate at home in Cairns and instead were directed into a Brisbane hotel. 

Mr Kelly says his professional wage is already stretched with household expenses, which is why he applied for a fee waiver after being issued an invoice in April 2021.

Thousands of waiver requests unresolved

As of this month, Queensland Health has issued 84,463 invoices for hotel quarantine.

Of those, 21,401 people had applied for a quarantine fee waiver, and so far 4,639 have been approved in part or in full.

The remaining 16,762 people are either still having their applications processed or considered — or they’ve been rejected.

The ABC has spoken to several other people seeking fee exemptions, who don’t want to be identified publicly

One woman returned from overseas — where she’d overstayed her visa and was unable to work — in October 2020.

She paid around $10,000 for a business-class flight home, after an earlier economy ticket was cancelled amid caps on international arrivals.

She lodged a waiver application in December 2020 and was contacted for more information in April this year.

Another applicant is a student who was overseas studying when the pandemic broke out. He quarantined in Queensland at the end of 2020.

He waited several months to receive his invoice the following February, then submitted his application for a waiver. He’d assumed it had been accepted or it had been lost in the system, but then received a reply in May this year asking for further documents.

‘A robust process’

A Queensland Health spokesperson said travellers can apply for waivers based on their circumstances.

“A robust internal process is undertaken in relation to quarantine fee waiver assessment to ensure circumstances relating to each application are considered appropriately.”

The immediate past president of the Queensland Law Society, Elizabeth Shearer, said individuals don’t have much grounds to contest the bills, other than use the waiver process and wait for a response.

“The situation is governed by amendments to the Public Health Act that the government introduced at the start of the pandemic, in early 2020,” she said.

“This gives the government the right to require people to quarantine and pay for that quarantine.

“The Law Society’s position during the pandemic was that the government was in a very difficult spot and the health emergency justified emergency legislation, so the fact that the first cut of this legislation lacked some of those usual review processes, or things like time frames, was not something that we took issue with.

“But two-and-a-half years later we still have a system without some of the usual checks and balances on decision making by government officials. These should have been restored.

“In this case it would be things like criteria for decision-making, time frames to issue invoices, time frames to make decisions and an independent merits review process.”

Ms Shearer herself underwent hotel quarantine last year. She received her invoice several months later — after chasing it up herself.

“I ended up contacting the Health Department and got a bill issued, but that was at my instigation. It’s a significant amount of money that’s owing… I think it’s not unreasonable for people to want to know, when am I going to get the bill and how long will the time frame be for the decision to be made about waiver.”

Government accepts there is a backlog

On Friday, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said applications are being given proper consideration.

“Any applications for either entering into a payment plan or an exemption, we’re seeking to fast track those as much as we possibly can,'” she said.

“We do accept that there is a backlog, because our staff have been managing many different issues through COVID, but we are working our way through this.”

As of this month, Queensland Health has referred 3,366 overdue invoices — with a value of $9.6million — to a debt collection agency — but wouldn’t provide any information about how much debt collectors have recouped, saying it was considered commercial-in-confidence.

Continue Reading

COVID-19 in Australia

Victoria: Fourth dose for health worker

Published

on

By

Premier Daniel Andrews will push the federal government for all healthcare workers in hospitals across Victoria to get a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine, amid concerns over waning immunity.

He revealed his intention to approach the Commonwealth over the second booster shots on Monday, saying hospital chiefs had raised it as a “real priority” following a recent spate of COVID-19 outbreaks seeded by staff bringing the virus into work.

“The CEO of Barwon Health, a nurse herself, made it very clear to me that a number of their COVID outbreaks in their hospital had been via staff bringing the virus in unknowingly and [despite] following all the right protocols,” he said.

“Some of their immunity is waning, so getting them fourth jabs as fast as possible is very important to help keep COVID out of the hospital. That’ll be something that I’ll be raising with the Commonwealth as soon as I can.”

There are no plans to mandate a fourth dose for healthcare workers in Victoria. However, it is mandatory for workers in healthcare, aged care, disability, emergency services, correctional facilities, quarantine accommodation and food processing and distribution to be “up to date” with their vaccination doses.

At present, this means they require a third dose to work on site and must have it within a set time frame once they are eligible.

Experts say boosters have been critical in reducing serious illness and fighting spread of the virus, with mounting evidence that the third dose provides ongoing protection, particularly against the vaccine-evasive Omicron variant.

Victoria’s front-line healthcare workers were among the first to be immunised against coronavirus and their third-dose boosters were fast-tracked and mandated during the Omicron wave.

Andrews will urge the nation’s chief vaccine advisers to consider including healthcare workers in the cohort eligible for a fourth dose and request vaccine supply from Canberra.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation presently recommends a fourth dose only for Australians aged over 65 and those at increased risk of severe illness, including young people with underlying conditions. The fourth dose can be given four months after the booster.

People aged 64 and younger who do not have underlying risk factors are not eligible for a winter booster.

Asked whether a fourth dose could be mandated for healthcare workers in the future, Andrews pointed to the state’s pandemic legislation, indicating the responsibility for key health decisions now lies with Health Minister Martin Foley.

Under new pandemic-specific legislation, Foley makes public health orders following regular pandemic briefings and expert advice from Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and his team.

A Victorian government spokeswoman said the state was continually assessing the need for vaccine mandates.

 

Continue Reading

COVID-19 Around the World

Weekly news at a glance

Published

on

By

(Worldwide) Covid positive kids separated from parents in Shanghai

A hospital in Shanghai is sending COVID-positive children and parents to different quarantine facilities, an online debate has revealed. Unverified images of children, three-to-a-cot, being tended to by workers in hazmat suits circulated on the WeChat social media platform.

The centre accused of housing the children, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre in the city’s Jinshan district, took to the social media site to debunk the rumours, but in doing so confirmed the existence of the quarantine site.

It added it had organised for more paediatric workers and would strengthen communication with the children’s parents in the wake of criticism from parents whose children have been housed in the facility.

 

(Worldwide) U.S. drops COVID testing for air travelers

In one of the most anticipated travel developments this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is poised to lift its requirement for travelers to test negative for Covid-19 before entering the United States, CNN learned on Friday.

The measure has been in place since January 2021. The move is likely to encourage travelers around the world to plan a summer vacation in the States and encourage more US travelers to venture abroad knowing they’re less likely to get stranded overseas with a positive test. Air travel has been far from smooth this season so far.

 

(Worldwide) Face of Hospitality in the Post-Covid World

Studies show that consumer spending on discretionary items like travel, eating out, entertainment etc would stay low and focus would stay on the basics like groceries, internet and mobile services etc. This indicates that there is still time for the hospitality industry to reach its glory of the pre-pandemic times. Similarly, those businesses that depend on the travel and tourism sector are likely to suffer the lul.

Hotels depend heavily on the revenue they generate from business travelers. But, given the current scenario, that too will take time to recover. With the death of many organizations that funded such business travel, it is likely that about 5-10% of it would never return. This makes it imperative that the businesses keep a close watch on the trends that determine the future of the hospitality and tourism industry and plan accordingly.

 

(AUS) Tutors in high demand, but doubts on program for next year

The state government’s 480 million dollar coronavirus catch-up tutoring program has been compromised by teacher shortages, due to COVID and influenza. The program aimed to benefit all government and low-fee private schools in helping students whose learning stalled during the pandemic.

According to Andrew Dalgleish, president of the Victorian Principals Association, most schools were forced to replace sick staff with the tutors to take whole classes. Victorian government awaits a final report before considering if it will recommit to the program.

 

(AUS) COVID-19 vaccine booster available for at-risk children aged 12 to 15

Children aged 12 to 15 years, who are severely immunocompromised and children with a disability, are eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccine from this week. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has recommended extending eligibility for the Pfizer booster to about 120-thousand children.

Those eligible must have received their second dose at least three months ago, be severely immunocompromised, have a disability, or complex health conditions which increase the risk of severe COVID-19. Children who are NOT considered at-risk, who have received two vaccine doses, are still considered to be well protected against severe disease.

 

(AUS) Free flu vaccinations for Victoria

Free flu vaccinations are available to anyone aged 6 months and over until 30 June. Everyone aged 6 months and older is recommended to get the flu vaccine, especially people aged 65 years and over, people at higher risk of serious illness of complications from flu, pregnant women and children under 5 years.

The COVID-19 vaccine does not protect you against flu, you still need to get the flu vaccine. The best protection for families and communities this winter is to get vaccinated against both flu and COVID-19.

Continue Reading

Trending