Victoria appears to have passed the peak of infections in its latest Covid wave, although authorities remain concerned the overrepresentation of older people in hospital and the highly infectious Omicron subvariants.
State health officials are confident cases are trending downwards as hospitalisation numbers stabilise.
But they have warned that about 40% of people aged 65 and over in Victoria have yet to receive their fourth vaccine dose – putting them at a greater risk of death or hospitalisation.
On Monday Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said there had been a 10% reduction in case numbers compared to last week.
“That’s good news. And as we would expect, the hospitalisation numbers also appear to be plateauing now if not past the peak,” Sutton said.
“Another good sign for our health system that hospitalisations are really following those case numbers down.”
As of Monday, there were 773 Victorians in hospital, with a seven-day average of 811 – down from 831 recorded the previous week.
But the number of deaths have risen in recent weeks, due to a higher proportion of Victorians aged over 75 making up the state’s hospitalisations compared to previous waves.
Department of Health figures show over half of the state’s current hospitalised cases are over 75 years of age.
“Those individuals in particular need to consider all of the things that they can do to protect themselves … mask wearing is one of those really important interventions,” Sutton said.
Modelling prepared by the Burnett Institute had predicted hospitalisations would peak at between 900 and 1,000 early this month. But officials are confident Victoria that reached a plateau earlier than expected, although the rate at which cases drop will depend on how widespread Covid-safe behaviour, such as mask wearing in indoor public places, is adhered to.
Sutton said the state’s flu season was “largely done and dusted” after an earlier spike in cases during June and July.
Authorities are also urging those eligible for their fourth dose to have their booster shot.
Sutton stressed that receiving a fourth dose for those aged 65 and older equates to a four-fold reduction in the risk of dying and being hospitalised.
Health authorities also estimated that almost half – 45% – of people infected with Covid were not reporting their cases, meaning vulnerable Australians or those over 70 may be missing out on accessing oral antivirals in the recommended time frame.
Sutton said close to 10% of new cases were now reinfections, which adds a cumulative risk of long Covid.
“It increases your risk of other adverse effects after your recovery from Covid. People are at greater risk of heart attack, they’re at greater risk of stroke. They’re at greater risk of clots following a Covid infection,” he said.
“Reducing the frequency and the number of times that we might get Covid in a 12-month [or] two-year period remains a critically important thing
Victoria enacted stage three of its winter response plan – unlocking private hospital beds for public patients – on 17 July, when Covid hospitalisations hit 800.
Despite almost 2,000 public hospital staff furloughed daily, health officials believe Victoria is well below the workforce threshold that would trigger moving to stage four.