A new Omicron subvariant becomes dominant in NSW as experts urge Australians to remain vigilant with declining vaccination rates and ending mask mandates.
The Omicron subvariant known as BA.5 originated in South Africa and has gained a foothold in Australia, the US, and Europe.
The latest respiratory surveillance report from the NSW found that between May 28 and June 4, BA.5 infections tripled, while Omicron BA.2 cases (the most dominant strain in the state) halved.
Prevalence has become so high in the past week that nearly a quarter (22 percent) of Covid infections in NSW is likely to be the BA.4 – another new strain from South Africa – or BA.5 subvariant.
“BA.4 and BA.5 are expected to become the dominant strain and are likely to be associated with an increase in infections in the coming weeks,” the report said.
Camera IconBA.5 Covid infections have tripled recently. Christian Gilles / NCA NewsWire Credit: News Corp Australia
While there is “no evidence of a difference in disease severity,” NSW Health is still closely monitoring the situation.
Professor Margaret Hellard of the Burnet Institute agreed that these subvariants were “not that nasty” in terms of making people sick, but the community should remain vigilant.
“It’s a concern because your protection isn’t as good f you’ve had a previous infection; several Australians have now had a previous Covid infection,” she told Sunrise on Friday.
“The point I want to make about it is that we still need people to be protected against this, so that means people have to go out and get their vaccines on their booster dose if they haven’t had the third dose.”
On Thursday, Professor Hellard told a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into the state’s pandemic orders that Australia would experience between 10,000 and 15,000 Covid-associated deaths this year.
She isn’t happy with the country’s vaccination numbers, as just over 70 percent of the eligible population has received three or more doses.
“I’m never happy with vaccination rates when there are people who can be vaccinated to protect themselves and their families, so it can and should be higher,” she said.
Professor Margaret Hellard of the Camera IconBurnet Institute is not happy with the vaccination rate in the country. Professor Margaret Hellard AM / Burnet Institute Credit: Delivered
“More than 10,000 Australians will die from Covid this year, and there are things we can do to stop that. We shouldn’t think we’re not all capable of doing that.”
It comes at a time when mask mandates are being scrapped at airports across the country following a recommendation from Australia’s chief health protection committee.
“They (masks) play an important role in the array of things we can do to protect ourselves,” she said.
Camera IconMasks are no longer needed at airports across the country. NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard Credit: News Corp Australia
“I don’t think masks should be used all the time. When we get into waves of infection where the number of cases is rising, they can effectively reduce that.
“When infections are high in a community or increasing in a wave, indoor masks are effective.”