State of the pandemic

by JAMES POYNER
25th July 2022

IN THE 24-HOUR reporting period before July 19, there were 244 new COVID-19 cases reported in Manningham, taking the active caseload up to 1,322.
In Nillumbik, there were 131 new cases, totalling 656 active cases.
These numbers are consistent with what is being reported in our neighbouring Local Government Areas (LGAs) and in LGAs across the state — Coronavirus is everywhere.
There were 12,201 new cases state-wide, with 9,953 of those detected through RAT kits. In Victoria, as of July 19, there are 65,416 active cases of COVID-19 that have been reported.
With pandemic measures significantly relaxed and, in many situations, mask-wearing a recommendation instead of a mandate, vaccination is one of our most effective defences against this virus.
While first and second dose uptake hit 95–97 per cent, the uptake of the boosters (third and fourth doses) has slowed since the end of March, when the eligible population (16+) raced to 64 per cent in three months.
Reporting figures on July 19 indicate in Victoria that 73.5 per cent of the eligible population has received three or more doses; nationally, that figure is 70.9 per cent.
Residents of Manningham and Nillumbik who have been able to and have received at least three doses should be proud as our municipalities are ahead of the curve at 75.7 and 78.2 per cent respectively of those eligible vaccinated.
There is some concern in the community regarding the three-month window between being infected with COVID-19 and getting a booster and the new understanding that the current Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5 can cause reinfection of those who have had the virus within 28 days (four weeks).
Reports from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) address this issue.
AHPPC notes in its COVID-19 winter update:

“BA.4 and BA.5 are associated with increased immune escape, and we are likely to see rates of reinfection rise among those who have previously been infected with an earlier COVID-19 variant and those who are up to date with their vaccinations.
Vaccination continues to be the most important protection against severe illness.
Given reinfections may occur as early as 28 days after recovery from a previous COVID-19 infection, the AHPPC advises that the [official] reinfection period be reduced from 12 weeks to 28 days.
People who test positive to COVID-19 more than 28 days after ending isolation due to previous infection should be reported and managed as new cases.”

On July 13, ATAGI agreed with the AHPPC report but still recommended interval between infection and vaccine remain at three months.
“Evidence suggests that BA.4/5 is associated with a higher re-infection rate compared to previous variants, and this is likely to be due to immune evasion,” the ATAGI statement said.
ATAGI explains there is not a lot of data on the additional protection a booster provides in the short term, if it is administered soon after infection, adding:

“Immunologically, a longer time interval between vaccines enhances the ‘booster response’ and subsequent clinical protection, particularly against severe COVID-19 disease.
The COVID-19 vaccines have a modest, short duration of impact against infection and as the primary aim of the program is optimising protection from severe disease, a three-month interval, therefore, remains optimal.”

Masks Pandemic

(Public Safety) Order 2022 (No. 3), which came into effect on July 12 and will be in effect until October 12, states that masks must be carried at all times and people should wear a mask when visiting hospital and care facilities and when using public transport.
All levels of government and healthcare professionals are also recommending that people wear masks indoors in a public place (such as a supermarket or shopping centre) or in a situation where it is not possible to social distance.
In addition, the Victorian Department of Education and Training, Independent Schools Victoria, and the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria sent a joint letter to parents and carers stating they are asking students and staff to mask up for the remainder of winter.

“Students won’t be required or expected to wear masks when outdoors, and this expectation won’t stop student participation in the full range of school activities, including music, sport and performances.
We are asking for your support in explaining to your child or children the importance of this simple step that will help keep our schools as safe as possible.
We also ask that you make sure your child (or children) takes a mask to school (and wears it if they are travelling on public transport) or collects a mask when they arrive at school.
We all appreciate how important it is for students to be back at school.
This action will help make sure as many students and staff as possible are protected from COVID and other winter illness.”

Pandemic payments

To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Federal Government reinstated the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payments, which, in accordance with the COVID-19 Disaster Payment (Funding Arrangements) Act 2021, which expired on June 30, 2022.
Following a meeting of the National Cabinet in mid-July, the following statement was released:

“In recognition of the risks associated with more infectious new variants through the winter period, the Commonwealth agreed to reinstate the Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment to 30 September 2022.
Eligibility for the payment will be backdated to July 1, 2022, to ensure that anyone unable to work owing to isolation requirements in this period, without access to paid sick leave is supported.
Access to these payments will commence from Wednesday, July 20, with existing eligibility requirements to continue.
We have agreed to share the costs of the payment 50:50, between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.”

These payments are targeted to help those on lower incomes and casual workers maintain a basic income while sick with COVID-19. To apply and to check your eligibility, visit Services Australia at www.servicesaustralia.gov.au.