Australia

Seasonal flu and COVID-19 may run rampant this winter. Experts are calling for masks to return

Life may have returned to normal for many Australians, but for immunocompromised Harry Iles-Mann, the lockdown is far from over.
“I have been out socially only twice in the last two years,” Mr Iles-Mann told SBS News.
“Both of those times have been this year and on both occasions, it was an outdoor experience,” he said.

The 28-year-old Sydneysider has had liver disease and ulcerative colitis since he was three years old. And while he’s fully vaccinated and received his second booster, he’s worried if he contracts COVID-19 it could be disastrous for his health.

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“There’s a very significant risk of community transmission at the moment … and that represents a very significant risk to people like me,” Mr Iles-Mann said.
He has a good reason to worry. According to , which sources its data from John Hopkins University (obtained from governments, national and subnational agencies across the world) the number of new COVID-19 infections per capita in Australia was the fourth highest in the world on Saturday.
This was only after the Falkland Islands, Montserrat and Taiwan.
And COVID-19 is not the only thing experts are concerned about. After a two-year hiatus, seasonal flu is making a comeback just in time for winter.
Chris Moy – vice president of the Australian Medical Association – said the combination of COVID-19 and flu is about to put “enormous pressure” on Australia’s health system.
“We are heading into winter for our first real flu season [in] a couple of years,” Dr Moy told SBS News.

“We will have a continuing number of people in hospital from COVID-19, which is a great concern because our hospitals will be under enormous pressure over the next few months or so,” he said.

A woman smiling.

Nancy Baxter, head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne. Source: Supplied

According to epidemiologist Nancy Baxter, while contracting COVID-19 may offer some form of resilience against the same or other variants of COVID-19, it offers absolutely no protection against the influenza virus.

“There are going to be some people who will get both COVID and the flu and that’s not a good scenario,” Professor Baxter told SBS News.
“If you have one infectious disease affecting your lungs and then you get a second one, you are going to get worse,” she said.
Getting fully vaccinated and boosted is the first course of action both experts are recommending.

“It’s really imperative at the moment that everybody keep up with their vaccinations – either get vaccinated or get the booster. Also, get a flu shot as well, so that we can minimise the numbers of both those infections,” Dr Moy said.

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But the experts are also recommending the use of masks.
“People need to consider, particularly in indoor areas where it is not possible to physically distance, to get back to basics, such as wearing masks, to minimise the spread of both those infections,” Dr Moy said.
According to Ambulance Victoria’s most recent quarterly report, the period between 1 January and 31 March has been one of the busiest in its history, with the healthcare service having to attend to more than 90,000 Code 1 incidents.
Code 1 stands for time-critical events with responses requiring lights and siren.

The above quarter coincided with the peak of the Omicron variant in Victoria.

A man with his arms folded.

Danny Hill, executive secretary of the Victorian Ambulance Union.

But while Omicron has peaked in the state, Danny Hill – secretary of the Victorian Ambulance Union – said the demand for the ambulance service hasn’t.

“Anecdotally, what we’re hearing from our members is that it hasn’t quietened down,” Mr Hill told SBS News.
While calls pertaining to COVID-19 emergencies have gone down, Mr Hill said there’s been an increase in “lower acuity work” – instances “where people haven’t been able to see their regular GP and are not well and feel the need to call triple zero”.
As a result, Mr Hill said, “we’ve got a completely strained and burnt-out workforce”.

“Regularly, we’re seeing people literally break down in the workplace and any measure we can put in place to ease the workload on health workers helps to make sure that we keep the patients and the most vulnerable safe,” he said.

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