Covid-19 case numbers exploding across Australia as fourth wave takes off

<span>Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP</span>
Photograph: Jono Searle/AAP

The number of active Covid cases has exploded across the country as Australia enters its fourth wave, prompting renewed warnings to protect vulnerable aged care residents.

Jurisdictions collectively recorded more than 58,000 new cases of Covid in the past week, with some states reporting a doubling in the number of people hospitalised with the virus.

New South Wales recorded 19,800 new cases in the past seven days, Victoria had 16,636 new cases, and Western Australia recorded more than 8,000. South Australia had 6,867 new cases in the past week, Queensland recorded 5,828, and the ACT and NT had 1,194 and 369 new cases respectively. Tasmania was yet to publish its weekly case numbers by 3.30pm on Friday.

Related: Amid warnings of a looming Covid wave, how do Australia’s vaccination rates stack up?

NSW’s chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said it was clear the country was now in its fourth wave. Chant expected that the wave would probably peak before Christmas given its current trajectory.

“The wave is taking off with some trajectory, it will be quite a steep wave and hopefully the decline will be equally as steep,” she said on Friday.

“There is a sense that the wave may well peak before Christmas and we may be on the decline [by then].

“But the message is clear … this is an increased risk period for Covid, so please, now is the time to take those protective behaviours.”

In Queensland, where hospital bed occupancy had almost doubled, the chief health officer, Dr John Gerrard, said the state had moved to an “amber alert” for the fourth wave.

“This was always expected and we continue to see waves of Covid-19 in the coming months and even longer,” he said.

“That is why we have devised the traffic light system so that Queenslanders can know when we are entering a wave and, equally important, when we are leaving a wave, so they might modify their behaviour appropriately.”

He said the average age of Covid cases had increased with each successive wave in Queensland this year. In the first wave, the average age was 33. The average so far in this wave has been 47, he said.

“We know that older people have been less likely to get Covid during the course of the year because they have been protecting themselves,” he said. “But with each wave, we are seeing more and more older Queenslanders acquire infection.”

Victoria said it had recorded an 18.1% increase in hospitalisations, and that the average daily number of new cases was 2,377 this week, up from 1,471 last week. The state’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the increasing hospitalisations had been driven by the emerging Omicron subvariants including BQ.1 and XBB.

“There is currently no evidence to suggest these subvariants cause more severe disease,” he said. “However, hospitalisation rates are likely increasing due to waning immunity from past vaccination and the ability of these new subvariants to escape immunity from past infection.”

The aged care sector is also warning Australians to take extra precautions to protect vulnerable residents.

The Aged & Community Care Providers Association chief executive, Tom Symondson, urged anyone who was entering an aged care home to take a rapid test or wear a mask, and he urged staff who have tested positive to stay away from residents.

“Aged care providers are well equipped and prepared with supplies of PPE and their IPC protocols to manage Covid outbreaks, but we must continue to do everything we can to keep our residents and clients safe,” he said.

“We ask visitors to support staff in ensuring their loved ones are protected and remember to show your appreciation for their commitment in incredibly challenging circumstances.”

Health department data shows the proportion of Australians with a fourth vaccine dose is about 42.1%. The vast majority (89.6%) have had two doses or more and 72% have had their third dose booster.

The vast majority of aged care residents have had four doses or more, and 99% of aged care staff have had at least two doses.