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NSW entering new wave of COVID-19 cases, expert says

A leading epidemiologist warns yesterday's case numbers, which were the highest daily infections in more than two months, mark the beginning of a new wave of COVID-19 cases with the peak most likely to hit in February.

The recent rise in COVID-19 cases in NSW marks the beginning of a new wave, a leading epidemiologist says.

Key points:
  • The effective reproduction number is going up across NSW
  • The state could see a peak in cases in February
  • One expert says public health measures should be maintained despite the high rates of vaccinations

Yesterday, there were 560 new locally acquired cases in the state — that's double the number of infections from a week ago and the highest daily case number in more than two months.

There were another 485 cases announced on Sunday morning, which was the second-highest daily tally since early October.

Epidemiologist from the University of South Australia, Professor Adrian Esterman said the indicator that provides an insight into case numbers — the effective reproduction number (Reff) — had been shifting.

"For NSW it [the Reff] has been about one for weeks … so up until the last few days everything has been totally stable," he said.

"But now we're starting to see NSW cases going up and more importantly we're seeing the effective reproduction going up and that's not a good sign."

a man wearing headphones looking and smilinga man wearing headphones looking and smiling
Professor Esterman says at the current rate case numbers will double every 14 days.(ABC News)

The Reff currently stands at 1.38, a jump from 1.25 just a couple of days ago — and in line with the "bell-shaped curve" expected in epidemics.

"So what we're seeing now is typically that initial rise in cases which we saw at the start of the previous wave, so it's definitely going to be a wave coming up," Professor Esterman said.

"The effective reproduction number is now as high as it's been since the 23rd of August and the doubling time for case numbers is 14 days, so every 14 days the number of cases is going to double at the current rate."

He also said a peak in cases would likely not happen until February.  

The rate of hospitalisations is the one bit of "good news" remaining stable over recent weeks with yesterday's figure of 150 slightly lower than previous days. 

Christmas parties and social gatherings in confined spaces are being blamed for the uptick in cases, which Sydneysiders had previously been told to expect after the easing of restrictions for "Freedom Day" seven weeks ago.

the outside of a buildingthe outside of a building
NSW Health is concerned about the rate of transmission at pubs and hotels.(ABC News)

A party on a boat last Friday is now the source of more than 10 cases, with three of these confirmed as the Omicron variant.

NSW Health's Dr John Hall said pubs and clubs have increasingly become venues of concern with a number listed as exposure sites.

"The transmission in these types of settings is contributing to the increase in cases in NSW and we urge people not to attend social functions if they have any symptoms, even if mild," he said.

"NSW Health also strongly encourages people to wear a mask in situations where you cannot physically distance, especially indoors."

With the Omicron variant on the horizon — 45 cases have been confirmed with more expected — and the easing of restrictions for the unvaccinated due on December 15, Professor Esterman agrees these public health measures must be maintained despite the state's high vaccination rate.

Up until Saturday, December 11, 94.8 per cent of people aged 16 and over had received one dose of a COVID-19 jab and 93.1 per cent were fully vaccinated.

a woman getting a vaccinea woman getting a vaccine
There are more than 92 per cent of people aged 16 and over fully vaccinated.(AAP: Brendon Thorne)

Professor Esterman said while it was looking like Omicron may be more infectious than Delta but not as impactful, that had not been proven.

"[Omicron] potentially will take over from Delta and when you're getting something even more transmissible it means that even though we have very high levels of vaccinations it won't be sufficient," he said.

"And that means we do have to retain our public health measures, not relax them."

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has echoed these sentiments saying that while the medical advice was looking encouraging, we had to remain vigilant.

"We're still in the middle of this pandemic. We have to be vigilant. Certainly there is no room for complacency," Mr Frydenberg said.

"Biosecurity measures are there as precautionary measures. They have served Australia well to date and obviously we are focused on maintaining people's health and maintaining the restrictions being eased and freedoms being returned."

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