SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s COVID-19 winter outbreak fuelled by the new Omicron sub-variants BA.4/5 may have peaked early, Health Minister Mark Butler said on Thursday, as hospitals reported a steady fall in admissions over the past week.
Australia is battling one of its worst flare-ups of the coronavirus driven by the fast-moving new Omicron sub-variants, putting severe strain on hospitals and retirement homes. But Health Minister Mark Butler flagged the worst could be over.
“That is what I’m hearing but we’re not calling it yet,” Butler told Nine News. “We are quietly hoping that we have reached the peak earlier than we expected to.”
Health officials predicted the latest wave could peak only later this month, with some states expecting the spike in infection rates and hospital admissions to ease by late August.
“It does seem clear cases are starting to peak and maybe drop off in some states and very pleasingly, hospital numbers have dropped off,” Butler said.
Hospital admissions from COVID-19 hovered near the 5,000 level on Thursday but have fallen from the record 5,571 reached a week ago, official data showed.
Butler said influenza infections had passed their peak, relieving pressure on the health system.
Australia has endured a tough winter with COVID-19 and the flu virus circulating. Many frontline workers in hospitals are also sick or in isolation, worsening the healthcare crisis.
Data also showed a lag in people taking booster shots, with only about 71% getting their third dose versus 96% who have had two doses, raising concerns of a surge in hospital cases.
The government said on Wednesday it would offer from September Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for children aged 6 months to below 5 years who are at higher risk of developing severe illness.
Australia has reported just over 9.5 million cases and 12,072 deaths since the pandemic began, far lower than many countries helped by world-beating vaccination numbers and strict restrictions earlier in the pandemic.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Stephen Coates)