11 January 2024

New COVID wave isn't hitting ACT yet but counting has shifted to only severe cases

| Ian Bushnell
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nurse holding a covid test

A new COVID variant is causing concern interstate because of its greater ability to evade the immune system. Photo: Canberra Health Services.

ACT Health insists that the COVID-19 waves in NSW and Victoria aren’t washing into the national capital, but it isn’t measuring how much of the virus there may be in the community any more, preferring to focus on severe cases and those that need to be admitted to hospital.

The new waves interstate over the holiday period are driven by the EG.5 and the emerging JN.1 variant, producing the highest level of COVID in a year.

In NSW, about 1400 people are presenting to emergency departments with the virus and about 400 are being admitted to hospital each week.

Both states are warning people to take precautions and advising those with the virus to stay home.

The JN.1 variant is raising concern because of its greater ability to evade the immune system, although it does not seem to be more severe than other variants.

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An ACT Government spokesperson said notifications of COVID-19 in the ACT had decreased since a peak in mid-November 2023 and hospital admissions remained low and generally stable throughout late 2023 and early 2024.

For the period 29 December to 4 January, there were 120 new cases but these were from PCR tests only after reporting methods were changed just before Christmas.

There were 20 in hospital, including two in the ICU.

This was a slight increase on the previous week when there we 74 cases (both PCR and RATs) and 15 in hospital.

Before the reporting changes, cases had been in the hundreds, boosted by people submitting their RATs.

Since 22 December, people have not been able to report positive Rapid Antigen Test results to ACT Health and now need a pathology referral form to get a PCR test. Free RATs will no longer be available from the end of January. Also, fewer statistics are on the revised COVID dashboard.

The government spokesperson said COVID was definitely in the community and case and hospital numbers had fluctuated but not significantly over the holiday period.

ACT Health was now more focused on the severity of illness, hospital admissions and the impact on the health system rather than overall case numbers.

“We continue to monitor and assess the situation, including severity indicators and information available on emerging variants, and will adapt our response as required,” the spokesperson said.

It had ceased identifying variants some time ago.

Asked if Canberrans, particularly those travelling interstate, still needed to take precautions, the spokesperson said the government always encouraged people to do the things that could reduce the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19 and other infectious respiratory viruses, such as influenza.

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These included staying up-to-date with vaccinations, staying home if unwell, wearing a mask indoors or in a crowd and washing hands.

“People at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should speak to their regular healthcare provider about what to do if they become unwell, including how to access timely testing and specific COVID-19 treatments,” the spokesperson said.

ACT Health had not detected any increase in other notifiable respiratory viruses in the ACT, including flu and RSV, but it continued to closely monitor developments across Australia and overseas.

COVID-19 has not been considered a Communicable Disease Incident of National Significance since 20 October 2023.

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Leilani Faulkner10:05 pm 12 Jan 24

Over Christmas and the holidays every member of my family, extended family and friends in Canberra have been ill with Covid – 2nd or 3rd time.
I’ve been in bed for 3 days with severe symptoms and now can’t go to work. Numbers should still be reported. It’s a serious disease and yet it is now being treated like it’s no big deal – no one knows the numbers except for hospital admissions. It is a very big deal for public health – and as I lie here feeling like death warmed up – I’d like to report my case.

CaptainSpiff10:34 pm 11 Jan 24

Right. We need high numbers so we can scare people. Because that worked so well before.

GrumpyGrandpa6:53 pm 11 Jan 24

Excluding Rat tests when determining Covid numbers in the community could leave the ACT under prepared.

My concern is based on general community apathy. When people see low numbers, they lower their guard and potentially put more vulnerable people at increased risk.

Pretty dumb, in my opinion.

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