A new Omicron subvariant is becoming dominant in NSW as experts urge Australians to remain vigilant with vaccination rates waning and mask mandates ending.
The Omicron sub-variant known as BA.5 originated in South Africa and has taken hold in Australia, the US, and Europe.
The latest NSW respiratory surveillance report revealed that between May 28 and June 4, BA.5 infections tripled while Omicron BA.2 cases (the most dominant strain in the state) halved.
Its prevalence has grown in the last week. Nearly a quarter (22 percent) of NSW’s Covid infections will likely be the BA.4 – another new strain from South Africa – or BA.5 subvariant.
“It is expected that BA.4 and BA.5 will become the dominant strain and will likely 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 says it is still closely monitoring the situation.
Burnet Institute professor Margaret Hellard agreed that these subvariants were “not as nasty” in making people sick but said the community should remain vigilant.
“It’s a concern because your protection is not as great if you had a previous infection; several Australians have now had a previous Covid infection,” she told Sunrise on Friday.
“Critically, the point I would like to make about it is we still need people to get protection from these, so that means people need to go out and get their vaccines, their booster doses 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 to 15,000 Covid-associated deaths this year.
She is unhappy with the country’s vaccination numbers, with just over 70 percent of the eligible population receiving three or more doses.
“I’m never happy with vaccination rates when there are people that could be vaccinated to protect themselves and their family, so it can be and should be higher,” she said.
Camera IconBurnet Institute professor Margaret Hellard is unhappy with the country’s vaccination rates. Professor Margaret Hellard AM / Burnet Institute Credit: Supplied
“Over 10,000 Australians are going to die this year from Covid, and there are things we can do to stop that. We shouldn’t think we’re not all in a position to do so.”
It comes at a time when mask mandates are beings scrapped at airports around the country following a recommendation from the Australian health protection principal committee.
NSW, Queensland, Western Australia, and the ACT will all end the rule over the next two days, but Ms. Hallard said wearing masks indoors was still important during a surge in cases.
“They (masks) play an important role in the suite of things we can do to protect ourselves,” she said.
Camera IconMasks will no longer be needed at airports across the country. NCA NewsWire/Tertius Pickard Credit: News Corp Australia
“I don’t think masks need to be used all the time. I think it’s when we’re going into waves of infection where the number of cases is going up they can effectively reduce that.
“When infections are high in a community or infections are going up in a wave, masks indoors are effective.”