Covid case numbers in NSW and Victoria are on the rise, and experts say restrictions may be required ahead of Christmas.
Covid case numbers are beginning to increase in New South Wales and Victoria — the first sign that an expected surge in infections has begun — potentially setting the two states up for a superspreader event over Christmas.
Case numbers in both states have been inching up with NSW reporting 222 cases on Tuesday, while Victoria had 1069 cases.
University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman told news.com.au the effective reproductive number (Reff) for NSW was now at 1.15, which means someone with Covid is passing it to more than one person on average — an indication the outbreak is growing and there’ll be higher case numbers.
It’s a similar story in Victoria, where the Reff is still under 1, at 0.99, but is increasing.
“There’s been eight rises in a row of the effective reproductive number,” Prof Esterman said.
The seven-day moving average has also been creeping up.
“It looks like a gentle rise but it may be speeding up a bit,” he said.
Prof Esterman said an upward curve was starting to emerge but it was still early days.
“I think we are starting now to see the next peak just starting to form,” he said.
Experts predicted there would be a surge in cases once lockdowns ended despite high vaccination rates in both states.
More than 93 per cent of NSW residents have got at least one jab and 90 per cent have been double dosed. In Victoria around 92 per cent have had at least one dose and 85 per cent are fully vaccinated.
Prof Esterman said the increase in cases had actually happened later than expected.
“We were pretty sure that when restrictions were relaxed we would see more cases numbers — we more surprised they didn’t come quicker,” he said.
The rising numbers now sets up the states for a Covid Christmas with cases potentially surging during the holiday season as families gather to celebrate.
Restrictions may be needed ahead of Christmas
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has previously pointed to modelling from the Burnet Institute, which predicted cases would rise to a daily peak of close to 4000 new cases per day in mid-December. The modelling predicted cases could peak just after Christmas.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely told 3AW radio host Neil Mitchell tVictoria did not want to go into Christmas with case numbers at 2500 or 3000 a day.
He said if cases did explode in the lead-up to Christmas then restrictions may be needed to get back on track ahead of the festive period.
This could include a return to density limits and increased monitoring of hot spot areas and targeted testing.
Concern about Queensland’s mask decision
Prof Esterman said the experience of places like the United Kingdom had shown vaccinations alone were not enough to keep the virus under wraps and that some restrictions would be needed to keep cases from overwhelming the hospital system.
“Even when there are 90 to 95 per cent of people vaccinated we still have to retain some public health measures and one of the easiest ones to retain is mask wearing,” he said.
In Victoria and NSW masks are still required to be worn indoors despite 80 per cent of adults in both states being fully vaccinated. South Australia will keep rules on mask wearing indoors even once it hits the 80 per cent vaccination rate and this will remain in place for high-risk settings such as hospitals once 90 per cent are vaccinated.
This is in contrast to Queensland, which has said it will no longer require masks be worn in schools, cafes, pubs, clubs, hairdressers and workplaces once 80 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated.
Masks are only “strongly recommended” for public transport and places where people cannot socially distance.
Prof Esterman said he didn’t think loosening rules around mask wearing in Queensland was very sensible.
“It’s not a huge imposition, it’s not that expensive and it’s one of the best things we can do to reduce transmission,” he said.
Deaths and hospitalisations are under control
The good news is that hospitalisations and deaths have fallen thanks to Australia’s high levels of vaccination.
An update to Burnet Institute modelling showed the number of Victorians expected to die from Covid-19 by the end of the year had almost halved thanks to the higher than expected levels of those double jabbed.
The number of projected deaths in the six months to December dropped to 1212, from 2202.
The chances of overwhelming the hospital system have also dropped from 63 per cent to just 23 per cent.
“At the moment we’re seeing almost everyone getting infected is unvaccinated,” Prof Esterman said.
However, there were still areas with low levels of vaccination that could be hard hit once borders re-open.
“Every state or territory has pockets of low vaccination and when the borders open there will be a higher chance that infections will go straight through them,” Prof Esterman said.