Australia’s fourth wave of Covid is set to peak before Christmas as the rate of hospitalizations and infections begin to slow.
Cases continued to rise nationwide for the sixth straight week, but at a slower pace. This suggests that a plateau of cases would arrive by the first week of December, consistent with pandemic modeling, if it hasn’t already.
New South Wales recorded 31,531 new Covid cases during the weekly reporting period, up 13% from 27,869 last week.
Victoria recorded 22,281 new cases in the last weekly reporting period, up 9% from 20,398 the previous week.
Previously, cases in New South Wales and Victoria doubled in just a fortnight, driven by a ‘soup’ of Omicron subvariants.
Deaths in New South Wales fell to 25, from 39 the previous week. Of the state’s deaths, 16 people were elderly residents, 14 of whom died in an aged care facility.
There were 1,320 people being treated in hospital with the virus and 32 in intensive care, with the seven-day rolling average of daily admissions falling to 73 from 75 the previous week.
Emergency department presentations, however, had risen to 314 from 262 in the last reporting period.
James Wood, associate professor of infectious disease epidemiological modeling at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said cases were “very close” to the peak in New South Wales, had it not been not already produced.
“I suspect they will stay around the current level for the next week or two and then decline,” he said.
“I really expect cases to be significantly lower by Christmas. It looks like the new Omicron sub-variants are already pretty close to the dominant one and the increased immunity to infections and reduced transmission as we move into summer will be what will bring down cases.
In Victoria, 68 deaths have been recorded in the past seven days, down from 46 the previous week. Health authorities said the deaths may not have occurred during the week they were officially reported.
Hospitalizations increased by 22% to an average of 430 per day, and there were 15 daily admissions to intensive care, almost double the 8 of the previous week.
Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said hospitalizations and case numbers are expected to rise for several weeks with a likely peak around early December.
“Indications from Singapore and Western Europe suggest this wave could pass relatively quickly, although different local conditions may have an impact,” Sutton said.
The state’s latest sewage test results showed strong detections of Sars-CoV-2 – the virus that causes Covid – in every geographic area, and “very strong” detections in Craigieburn and Portland.
Similarly, all samples tested in New South Wales contained fragments of Sars-CoV-2, with a particular increase at Quakers Hill in western Sydney.
Queensland recorded 10,082 new cases in the last reporting period and 14 deaths, a decrease from the 10,106 cases and 15 deaths reported the previous week.
However, hospitalizations had increased by 27%. There were 312 people being treated in hospital with Covid and eight in intensive care, compared to 245 admissions and five in intensive care the previous week.
Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, said it was clear cases were “starting to decline” nationwide and had already leveled off in Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.
“I would describe it as a plateau rather than a sharp peak,” she said. “The fall is less certain, we are still learning about a mixture of viruses and you still have a 50% higher chance of contracting the virus compared to the beginning of the month.
“But hopefully it’ll be at the high end and it’ll be a more normal Christmas this year.”
The latest wave was now made up of a mix of Omicron sublines, including BR.2 and BQ.1.1.
There were 11 separate variants of Covid-19 circulating in New South Wales, including three ‘recombinant’ variants. A new BA.2.75/BA.5 recombinant, XBF, accounted for more than 10% of cases sequenced in Victoria.
Bennett said Covid variants are currently reproducing at a rate of 1.1, “barely a replacement” due to hybrid immunity, recent infections and vaccination rates.
She said the relatively low number of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions for the virus compared to previous waves was also cause for optimism.
“Early predictions were that the outbreak would behave similarly to waves overseas, and that appears to be the case,” she said.
“If we don’t see hospitalizations increasing and an impact on the daily death rate, that’s the most important thing…and outbreaks in elderly care will be one to watch.”
A federal health department spokesperson said cases rose 11% nationwide in the week ending Nov. 22, while hospitalizations rose 14%.
They said that while there was generally a lag in hospitalizations that could increase after the number of cases fell, the number remained “well below” the previous winter peak.