Soaring Covid-19 and flu infections will exacerbate staff shortages and transport problems as health experts warn the true number of virus cases may be more than twice as bad as they appear.
While the death toll from covid has risen steadily since March, the perception that the disease is no longer as serious for younger and healthier people has seen restrictions lifted and the remaining rules only loosely controlled.
But almost 247,125 Australians have tested positive for Covid in the past week, with New South Wales reporting more than 11,000 new cases on Saturday.
Queensland saw over 8,000 on Friday, while Victoria had over 6,000 and Western Australia nearly 5,000
Rising Covid-19 and flu infections will exacerbate staff shortages and transport problems as health experts warn the real number of virus cases could be more than twice as bad as it appears.
Air travel is one of the most visible sectors to be hit by staff shortages whenever there is a surge in passenger numbers – such as the current school holidays
There also appears to be the potential for the virus to spread uncontrollably through a casual workforce with no entitlements to protect it, as Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment has now expired (pictured ACTU boss Michele O’Neil)
However, according to Catherine Bennett, head of epidemiology at Deakin University, official flu and Covid case numbers could be less than 40 per cent of the true picture.
“Especially with Covid, a lot of people are asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms so they go about their normal lives, but they can spread it to others,” Bennett told The Australian.
She said because of the constant contact between sick and well workers – some of whom don’t want to stay at home because Covid relief payments have ended – Covid and flu can stay in workplaces “for a long time”.
Due to constant contact between sick and well workers – some of whom don’t want to stay at home because Covid relief payments have ended – Covid and flu can stay in workplaces ‘for a long time’
Fred Harrison, boss of independent supermarket chain, Ritchies IGA, described the current impact of illness on staff as “horrendous” (pictured right, Mr Harrison)
This week, new Health Secretary Mark Butler warned of a third wave of Covid infections as his department confirmed a record 147,155 new flu cases in 2022, with 55,101 in the last fortnight alone.
The Ministry of Health has also confirmed that children – especially children under the age of nine – are most at risk from the flu.
“In 2022, people aged 5-9, children under 5 and people aged 10-19 have the highest [influenza] notification rates.
Almost 250,000 Australians have tested positive for Covid in the past week, with states including NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia recording more than 8,000 cases in the past 24 hours (pictured members of the public walking in Brisbane wearing masks)
Due to the even greater infectivity of the now dominant BA.4 and BA.5 variants, there is great concern about widespread reinfection, which could even lead to the re-introduction of the indoor mask.
This is despite evidence showing that if masks are not worn correctly – for example, over the nose, not under it – they are not effective against the spread of Omicron.
Professor Peter Collignon, an influential infectious disease doctor at the Australian National University, said on social media last week that masks were “probably” ineffective against the Omicron wave.
The effects of the spread of Covid and flu and worker absenteeism are now having a huge impact on the economy, especially with workers too sick to work in sectors such as healthcare, retail, transport and hospitality.
The boss of independent supermarket chain, Ritchies IGA, has described the current impact of illness on staff levels as “horrendous”.
“It is very demanding. We are still at a high level of Covid in our business,” said Fred Harrison of Ritchies IGA. “There are people with colds and flu, which is another complication.
Health Minister Mark Butler has warned of a third wave of Covid infections as his department confirms a record 147,155 new flu cases in 2022
Queensland is considering reinstating hated mask mandates in a major U-turn to try to stem the worst of Covid (pictured, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk removing her mask)
Air travel is one of the most visible sectors to have been affected by staff shortages whenever there has been a surge in passenger numbers – such as the current school holidays.
Huge airport check-in queues have been reported in Melbourne and Brisbane this week and are expected in Sydney as the school holidays now begin.
Lack of staff due to illness is one of the main reasons for the delay.
There also appears to be the potential for the virus to spread uncontrollably through a casual workforce that has no claim to its protection, as Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment has now expired.
Until June 30, workers who lost 8 to 20 hours of work received $450, and $750 if they lost 20 hours or more.
The end of these payments was sharply criticized by the Australian Council of Trade Unions on Thursday.
And this despite the fact that anyone who tests positive is still required by law to self-isolate at home for seven days.
“This decision will lead to workers working when they are sick, which we have known since the early days of the pandemic is a surefire way to spread the virus faster,” ACTU president Michele O’Neil said.
Mr Butler called the shortage of nurses, doctors and care workers a “crisis”.
“We expect another wave of COVID in the coming months, so we’re seeing the new sub-variant, the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants, take hold here in Australia,” Mr Butler said.
“We’ve seen overseas that there’s a greater risk of reinfection, so if you had COVID earlier this year, in the first wave in the summer, there’s a risk that you’re open to reinfection.”
He urged people who didn’t have a booster to get one.
Queensland is tipped to be the first to restore masks in a bid to stem the tide of infection.
Queensland Chief Medical Officer Dr John Gerrard has revealed talks are underway with his interstate colleagues to bring back mask mandates.
“I can say the pressure is building nationally,” said 4BC’s Peter Fegan.
“There is a school of thought that we should mandate masks again.
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