A new Omicron subvariant is becoming dominant in NSW as experts urge Australians to remain vigilant with vaccination rates waning and mask mandates ending.
The Omicron sub-variant known as BA.5 originated in South Africa and has taken hold in Australia as well as the US and Europe.
The latest NSW respiratory surveillance report revealed that between May 28 and June 4, BA.5 infections tripled while Omicron BA.2 cases (the most dominant strain in the state) halved.
Its prevalence has grown to the point in the last week that nearly a quarter (22 per cent) of NSW’s Covid infections are likely to be the BA.4 – another new strain from South Africa – or BA.5 subvariant.
“It is expected that BA.4 and BA.5 will become the dominant strain and will likely be associated with an increase in infections in the coming weeks,” the report said.
While there is “no evidence of a difference in disease severity”, NSW Health says it is still closely monitoring the situation.
Burnet Institute professor Margaret Hellard agreed that these subvariants were “not as nasty” in terms of making people sick but said the community should still remain vigilant.
“It’s a concern because if you had a previous infection your protection is not as great. A number of Australians have now had a previous Covid infection,” she told Sunrise on Friday.
“Critically, the point I would like to make about it is we still need people to get protection from these, so that means people need to go out and get their vaccines their booster doses if they haven’t had the third dose.”
Professor Hellard told a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into the state‘s pandemic orders on Thursday that Australia would experience between 10,000 to 15,000 Covid-associated deaths this year.
She is not happy with the country’s vaccination numbers, with just more than 70 per cent of the eligible population having received three or more doses.
“I‘m never happy with vaccination rates when there are people that could be vaccinated to protect themselves and their family, so it can be and should be higher,” she said.
“Over 10,000 Australians are going to die this year from Covid and there’s things we can do to stop that. We shouldn’t think we’re not all in a position to do so.”
It comes at a time when mask mandates are beings scrapped at airports around the country following a recommendation from the Australian health protection principal committee.
NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and the ACT will all be ending the rule over the next two days, but Ms Hallard said wearing masks indoors was still important during a surge in cases.
“They (masks) play an important role in the suite of things we can do to protect ourselves,” she said.
“I don’t think masks need to be used all the time. I think it’s when we’re going into waves of infection where the number of cases are going up they can be effective in reducing that.
“When infections are high in a community or infections are going up in a wave, masks indoors are really effective.”