Hospitalised COVID patients double since Christmas, 100,000 daily cases on horizon

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the focus was now on monitoring the health system’s capacity, which remains at “manageable levels”.

“We will continue adapting our response as needed and if the facts and our evidence base change, we will adapt again.”

New data from more than a million COVID-19 cases in Britain found the risk of hospitalisation due to Omicron was a third of the rate of Delta.

However, with Omicron circulating primarily among the young and a known lag between when people test positive and fall sick, Kirby Institute epidemiologist John Kaldor says it was too early to confidently say how big the surge in Australian hospitalisations might be.

“We still probably a few weeks out from knowing how this is going to unfold.”

“Even though the COVID patients are not as sick as they were with Delta and there are less in ICU, they’re still taking up beds, they still need nurses to look after them.”

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid

Public health officials say a big proportion of cases are likely going undetected and Professor Kaldor said it would be not too wild a guess to suggest that there at least were three to five times as many cases as the officially notified.

Professor Esterman said it was safe to assume that Omicron had become the dominant variant nationally, but the proportion of Delta cases was unknown because most states and territories were no longer performing widespread genomic screening.

He said South Australia seemed to be coming down the other side from its peak, with the reproductive rate falling from four to two in the past fortnight.

“It’s not really uniform, but it will happen in NSW,” he said. “It’s really a matter of how long it will take and can you hold out until then?

“I’m hoping a lot of people will come to their senses and get vaccinated.”

COVID-19 cases in NSW hospitals have risen almost five-fold since the start of December and Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said the impact of these new admissions was already being felt in extremely busy emergency departments and an acute shortage of nurses exacerbated by staff getting the virus.

He expected fresh restrictions on elective surgery following the Christmas break to free up space for COVID-19 cases.

“Even though the COVID patients are not as sick as they were with Delta and there are less in ICU, they’re still taking up beds, they still need nurses to look after them,” he said.

NSW Health confirmed late on New Year’s Eve that healthcare staff who are close contacts of a COVID-19 case can return to work before completing the required seven days’ isolation if they are deemed to be essential by a senior manager.

The move is to ensure “continued delivery of essential health services” and will apply to asymptomatic workers in public and private facilities “in exceptional circumstances”, a spokesperson said.

If the workers develop any symptoms of COVID-19 they are required to seek a PCR test and not attend their workplace until a negative result is received.

“The exemption allows these close contacts to leave self-isolation to attend their workplace, provided they have been identified by their employer as critical to the service and cannot work from home,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.

“Under the exemption, healthcare workers must travel directly to and from their residence to their workplace. They are required to wear a mask at all times in their workplace, unless eating or drinking or providing services where it needs to be removed.

“These workers are also required to comply with risk-management strategies put in place by their employer.“

The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association said there was a “widespread staffing crisis” in the state’s hospitals, with one major Sydney hospital asking for patients to be discharged as soon as possible. In another hospital, just three midwives were on hand to support 14 women in labour.

Brett Holmes, the union’s general secretary, said the hospital system was struggling under increased demand and the situation is becoming unsafe, with nurses and midwives targeted with abuse and aggression.


“Our members are faced with an impossible task of trying to care for rising COVID-19 hospitalisations as well as other emergency presentations, and not enough staff to provide safe care,” Mr Holmes said.

“Patients and family members are presenting to hospital expecting a robust, high-functioning health system and become extremely agitated when they experience the widespread staffing crisis first-hand.”

A NSW Health spokesperson said there were more nurses and midwives in public hospitals than at any other time in history.

“There is currently sufficient capacity in our intensive care units to accommodate seriously unwell patients with COVID-19,” the spokesperson said.

NSW Health said it had upskilled staff from other specialities and recruited students and former health professionals to deal with the surge.

There were 119,278 tests in the 24-hour period to 8pm on Friday and four deaths, three women and one man, aged in their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Victoria recorded 7442 new cases and nine deaths, with 451 people in hospital and 51 active cases in intensive care. The new cases were detected in 63,026 tests.

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