21 March 2022

COVID-19 cases drop below 900; preparation underway for 'worst case scenario' winter flu season

| Lottie Twyford
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Canberra Hospital

The Territory’s health authorities are preparing its systems for what could be a surge in COVID-19 cases and influenza this winter. Photo: Region Media.

The ACT has recorded 898 new cases of COVID-19 in the latest reporting period to 8 pm last night as health authorities continue to brace themselves for what could be a difficult winter ahead.

Authorities have been warning for the last few months of the potential for a winter flu outbreak coupled with a winter spike in COVID-19 infections.

For the last two years – largely due to international border restrictions – there have been few cases of influenza recorded in the Territory.

Last year, only nine notifications of laboratory-confirmed influenza were made to ACT Health between 4 January and 29 August 2021. In contrast, 201 and 3343 cases were notified over the same period in 2020 and 2019, according to the Influenza Surveillance Report.

The 2019 flu season was one of the worst ever in the Territory, with 10 deaths recorded.

Health authorities have said they will not rule out reintroducing restrictions in winter if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases, and ACT Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said modelling is underway to determine what the season may look like and how that will impact the health system.

“We don’t have the details of what that planning will look like yet, but what we’re looking at is a flu season that we haven’t had for the last couple of years,” she told ABC Radio this morning.

Ms Stephen-Smith said while it’s hoped the flu season will be low to moderate, planning for a “worst-case scenario” is underway just in case.

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Canberra’s emergency departments are already experiencing an increase in demand for this time of year, which is putting pressure on the already-strained system.

“Where you normally would see an increase between January and March of between 15 and 20 per cent in presentations, we’ve actually seen an increase of around 30 per cent in presentations between January and March,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

On one recent day, there had been 30 per cent more presentations to the emergency department than on an average day last year.

“It’s been really, really busy already and that’s one of the other things we need to take into account as we head into winter,” she explained.

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Currently, there are 39 patients in the ACT’s hospitals with COVID-19. Of these, four are in ICU, but none require ventilation.

Yesterday, there were 38 people in hospital and four in intensive care.

The double-dose vaccination rate for the ACT’s five-plus population is 96.2 per cent, and 71.7 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have received a booster.

Of ACT residents aged five to 11, 33.6 per cent had received two doses.

The 898 (460 PCR and 438 RAT) new COVID-19 cases reported overnight take the ACT’s active caseload to 6014 (2976 PCR and 3038 RAT).

Since the pandemic began, 67,243 (44,484 PCR and 22,759 RAT) cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the ACT.

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Interstate, NSW has reported four deaths overnight and 14,970 new cases.

There are now 1163 people in hospital with the virus and 34 people in ICUs around the state.

Victoria has reported no new deaths overnight and an additional 7531 cases of COVID-19.

There are now 248 people hospitalised with the virus, while 20 patients are in the state’s intensive care units.

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