A wave of COVID-19 infections which has led to record hospitalisations in Western Australia is unlikely to peak until late-August.
WA Health on Monday reported 5514 cases and two deaths. The number of people in hospital climbed to 411 with 19 in intensive care.
The state’s initial Omicron outbreak peaked in May at more than 17,000 daily cases.
But with the highly infectious BA.4 and BA.5 variants spreading fast across the nation, Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson warned there is likely a much higher rate of infection in the community than is being reported.
She insisted hospitals were coping with the surge in serious infections, with the number of cases not expected to peak until mid to late August.
“We have beds, we have plenty of ICU capacity,” Ms Sanderson told reporters.
“What we do know from the last wave is …. (the number of) people who got really sick stayed very flat regardless of the number of daily infections in the community. So we’re fairly confident we can manage this.”
Ms Sanderson said there were no plans to bring back mask mandates outside of high-risk settings such as hospitals and aged care facilities.
The government is considering relaxing its requirement for hospital patients to undergo rapid antigen tests upon arrival despite opposition from doctors.
“We need to assist our healthcare workers to safely and quickly process patients through the hospital,” Ms Sanderson said.
“The chief health officer is constantly looking at procedures we have in place to ensure they are effective and do not become overly burdensome.”
Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith said changing the protocols would make it easier for the virus to spread in hospitals.
He urged the government to maintain testing at hospitals and bring back widespread mask-wearing to stem the rise in hospitalisations.
“The medical system is on its knees at the moment … our system does not have enough beds to allow this to go up much more,” he said.
Ms Sanderson said around 1500 health workers were unavailable due to COVID-19 furloughing.
About 150 people were presenting to hospitals every day with non-COVID winter respiratory illnesses, very few of whom were admitted.
“People have forgotten how horrible the flu makes you feel … but you don’t necessarily need to be hospitalised,” she said.
“A lot of GPs are not seeing people with respiratory illness, so that is sending people to our emergency departments. There are respiratory clinics available and open for people to see them where they are concerned.”
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