Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has learned the hard way about exponential growth, and it is swiftly approaching 1 million Covid-19 cases.
The country is grappling with big questions as Omicron re-enacts the Covid-19 experience: are the numbers accurate, how to test, and will the health system and infrastructure, including as distribution, hold up?
Only 11 days ago, the country surpassed 10,000 cases per day for the first time, and on Saturday, they surpassed the dubious mark of more than 100,000 cases reported in 24 hours, with 116,000 cases counted across the country.
NSW reported 30,062 cases and 16 deaths in the 24 hours leading up to 8 p.m. last night, while Victoria reported 44,155 cases and four deaths today. Meanwhile, Queensland had 18,000 instances today, Tasmania had 1406 cases, and the Australian Capital Territory had 1039 cases.
But there’s more to come: over the next 24 hours, the country will have surpassed a million cases, with the total hitting around 880,000 on Saturday.
New Zealand, on the other hand, has had 14,527 confirmed cases since the outbreak began.
As the storey of Omicron unfolded, the rules changed, Australia’s public health measures and institutions began to sag under the strain, and Australians began to wonder what would happen next.
Despite the large numbers, totals are beginning to lose their value when it comes to a true picture of how the country is doing.
Covid-19 infections broke records in every state and territory this week, with the exception of Western Australia, which has yet to fully relax border restrictions, as Omicron supercharges the virus’s potential to spread alongside eased limitations.
On Thursday, 256 cases were reported in the Northern Territory, prompting a sudden lockout. By Saturday, the number had risen to 594.
This week, more than 10,000 daily cases were reported in Queensland, and the uneasy 1000-case barrier was broken in the ACT.
For the first time in weeks, Victoria surpassed NSW when the state’s self-reporting of rapid antigen test (RAT) results passed the 50,000 mark. NSW had 45,000 official instances without counting RATs.
Meanwhile, South Australia had over 4000 daily cases, and Tasmania had over 2000.
Rapid antigen tests are nearly tough to come by, and many people who get a positive test haven’t followed up with an official PCR test. In most states, that step is no longer required as of this week.
Michael Lydeamore, an infectious disease modeller at Monash University, feels that official case counts in New South Wales and Victoria are quickly becoming worthless.
“Because the proportion [that is] positive across New South Wales and Victoria is so high,” he said, “they are beginning to lose more and more relevance.”
Many states had implemented procedures to log positive RAT results by the end of the week. This, together with the new testing regulations, will help to alleviate system stress, but it’s questionable whether official figures will ever again match reality.
However, as authorities and experts shift their focus to other statistics, this may become moot.
As part of the “logical next phase,” epidemiologist Catherine Bennett thinks it’s time to shift the focus away from case counts and toward surveillance and hospital admissions.
For majority of the country, there is still no simple answer to the first question, and the second is equally difficult.
It’s no longer simply a question of whether to test; you must also select whether to undertake a quick antigen test at home or wait in line for a PCR or a take-home RAT.
PCR tests are no longer necessary as confirmation for those who have a positive RAT, according to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, which means less double testing.
“That will relieve the strain on the PCR testing lines,” he explained.
However, concern over the availability of RATs has grown this week. They became increasingly difficult to come by, and at between $10 and $30 per test (after price gouging), they were just out of reach for most individuals.
Although RAT testing are free in some nations, Morrison has stated unequivocally that he will not “undercut” industry in Australia.
Hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the influx, according to healthcare personnel.
It’s not just the increased number of Covid-19-positive hospital admissions that’s putting a strain on bed and ventilator availability.
Because of the high prevalence of instances in the public, healthcare workers are among those who are unwell and are taking time off work – even those who are doing well – putting additional strain on those who are able to work. As a result, there’s an uptick in burnout, anxiety, and absence.
The number of people admitted to hospitals has now surpassed last year’s Delta high, and the number of those on ventilators isn’t far behind.
While Omicron causes less severe sickness (though the WHO says it’s not mild), the removal of limitations has allowed the remains of Australia’s Delta wave to spread as well.
Up to 70% of individuals on ventilators in Australian hospitals are thought to be fighting the Delta version rather than the Omicron.
Dr. Omar Khorshid, president of the Australian Medical Association, told Studio 10 on Friday that the system is under “exceptional pressure.”