COVID-19 continues to spread in Australia’s latest wave – with a 51% jump equivalent to more than 60,000 cases since last week, based on state and territory reporting.
It’s prompted health authorities around the country to urgently call on people to refresh their awareness of hygiene and preventative measures to reduce the risk of catching SARS-CoV-2 infection.
This week, Australia’s chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, noted the large spike in cases in last Friday’s weekly report were driven by the XBB and BQ.1 sublineages of the Omicron variant.
And although many Australians have been infected with any of the ancestral, Delta or Omicron variants, these new sublineages have demonstrated strong immune evasiveness.
“The overseas experience is that these new variants have driven increases in case numbers – and hospitalisations at a rate proportionate to these increases – because of their ability to evade the immunity provided by prior infection and vaccination,” Kelly says.
“It’s therefore timely to focus on the actions we can all take to reduce the threat of these new variants.”
Australia has removed the legal requirement to isolate for five days after testing positive for COVID-19, but as experts have observed, this does not mean a person should be mobile in the community if they have tested positive.
Kelly flagged the importance of remaining up-to-date with vaccines, which now include bivalent products based on the original and Omicron strains, as well as mask-wearing, (The P2 or N95 respirator mask is considered the most effective option) and social isolation if infected with the virus.
Other state authorities have listed recommendations for people to successfully navigate the current wave, which we have detailed below.
COVID-19 by the numbers
COVID-19 restrictions and requirements in Australia
There is no longer a need to self-isolate if testing positive to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. State and territory governments have outlined measures that infected people should take, as well as preventative measures for people who are not infected.
The New South Wales government is asking those who test positive using a rapid antigen test (RAT) to register it. For people who test positive, NSW Health recommends staying home until symptoms have gone, not visiting people at high risk of severe illness or anyone in hospital or other care or health facilities, avoiding large gatherings and indoor crowded places, wearing a mask indoors and on public transport if travel is necessary and liaising with employers about return to work. Along with this, NSW Health advises people remain up-to-date with vaccinations, wear facemasks in indoor public spaces, stay home if unwell and conduct social gatherings outdoors.
The Victorian government is asking those who test positive using a rapid antigen test (RAT) to register it. For people who test positive, Victoria’s health department recommends rest and recovery at home or seeking treatment if symptoms worsen, or if you are eligible for antivirals, isolating at home and informing close contacts, and only leaving home when symptoms have cleared up, five days after infection. It also recommends wearing a mask if in public for a minimum of seven days after testing positive. To reduce the chances of infection, it recommends remaining up-to-date with vaccinations, ventilating homes and workspaces and wearing a well-fitted facemask in public.
Queensland has introduced a ‘traffic light system’ to indicate preventative measures that people should take. At the present ‘amber’ level, it recommends wearing masks in healthcare settings, indoors, on public transport, if a person is older or medically at risk, if a person is near people who are vulnerable to COVID-19, or if required to do so by a venue or household. It recommends taking a RAT if COVID-19 symptoms present, or every two days if a household member has the virus. It also suggests registering RAT results, staying at home until well, wearing a mask outside the home for a week if testing positive, avoiding hospitals, health and other care settings, and informing household members.
Positive cases are advised to stay home until symptoms have resolved (usually 5-10 days), and to contact a health professional if symptoms worsen, advise close contacts and register a positive RAT result with the WA health department. The WA government also advises positive cases they should not visit or work in hospitals, health and other care settings, unless to receive urgent medical care. WA also recommends vaccination and wearing facemasks in crowded indoor spaces and where physical distancing is not possible.
SA Health recommends people get vaccinated; practice good hygiene including covering coughs, sneezes and wiping down surfaces; stay 1.5 metres from others where possible; stay home and get tested when unwell or have COVID-19 symptom; and wearing face masks when required or where physical distancing is not possible. SA Health requires positive RAT cases to report their result. Positive cases are also advised to stay home until symptoms have cleared, wear masks if on public transport or in indoor public spaces, avoid large gatherings and crowded indoor places, don’t visit people at high risk of severe illness, in hospital, health and other care settings for at least seven days, and liaise with employers regarding return to work.
Tasmania’s government says positive cases should stay home with any ongoing respiratory symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and advise close contacts. It also recommends contacting your usual GPs or healthcare providers in the event of a positive test, and obtaining emergency care if symptoms get seriously worse, in addition to staying home until symptoms are resolved, wearing a mask indoors and on public transport, avoiding large gatherings and crowded indoor places for at least seven days and avoiding visits to people at risk of severe illness, in hospital, or in aged or disability care facilities for seven days.
The ACT government requires positive cases to register positive RAT results. It also asks positive cases to stay home until symptoms are gone, wear masks when in public indoor places or on public transport, not enter high-risk health and other care settings unless approved by the facility, minimise movements in the community and check workplace policies for COVID-19.
It also says people must wear facemasks in high-risk settings such as disability or aged care facilities, and asks they be worn by positive cases when entering public indoor spaces, or by household contacts outside of the home.
The ACT encourages the wearing of face masks on public transport and indoor public spaces
Positive cases in the NT are recommended by the Territory health department to register positive RAT results, stay home while symptoms are active (potentially for 10 days), practising personal hygiene such as handwashing and hand sanitiser use, maintain distances of 1.5 metres from others where possible, wear face masks indoors and outdoors where social distancing is not possible, and avoid visits to people at risk of severe illness, hospitals, and other care facilities for seven days. It also recommends discussing return-to-work with employers.
Matthew Agius is a science writer for Cosmos Magazine.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.