The Project host Hamish Macdonald has admitted Aussies are living in “scary times” after a guest warned of a possible statewide superspreading event.
A health expert has cautioned there is a looming “hospital-based disaster” for Australia, warning the Covid-19 Omicron variant now poses a “profound public health threat”.
The worrying comments came from Dr Dan Suan, a clinic immunologist and researcher at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research on Channel 10’s The Project.
He said that New South Wales in particular was at risk of seeing a major superspreader event in the lead up to Christmas.
“The Omicron variant has some characteristics which mean that it is a profound public health threat and, because of our social mobility at the moment, it’s spreading very quickly,” Dr Suan told the program on Sunday night.
“In the lead-up to Christmas, we’re going to have a huge superspreader event, which will almost certainly cause a hospital-based disaster in January unless we take immediate action now.”
Dr Suan’s warning prompted host Hamish Macdonald to admit “it is scary times” for Australians, particularly with a number of Covid restrictions recently easing.
Cases of Covid-19, particularly the Omicron variant, have been increasing across multiple states and territories.
On Sunday, NSW confirmed 2566 new coronavirus infections. There are now 313 known Omicron cases across the state, though NSW Health warned the majority of Sunday’s cases were likely the Omicron variant.
NSW’s cases have been spurred on by multiple superspreading events at pubs and clubs, particularly in Newcastle and Sydney.
yet last week, restrictions around mask wearing and QR code check-ins were eased, with both safety measures now only required in certain “high-risk” settings.
‘Stoking unnecessary fear’
On Sunday night, Macdonald pointed out that there were some infectious diseases specialists that had differing views to those that have been issuing pessimistic warnings about the growing Omicron cases.
“There are experts, though – like Peter Collignon and Nick Coatsworth, for example – who are hitting back at what they say is some alarmism about the Omicron variant,” The Project host said.
“I mean, is there a risk that this is stoking unnecessary fear?”
However, Dr Suan claimed enough data had now been gathered about the Omicron variant to know how much of an impact it could potentially have.
“We know how contagious it is; we know that it escapes the vaccines; and we know how quickly it spreads. Because we can already see that by the vertical nature of the case curve here in Sydney,” he said.
“If you infect enough people with Omicron, a certain proportion of people need to go to hospital. That proportion is reduced by vaccines – that’s the whole point – but not enough.
“The Omicron variant means that the protection from severe disease falls, and it falls sufficiently, so that if you infect enough people, you still have a huge number of people that will need to go to hospital – a number that well exceeds the hospitals that are ready to cope.”
Dr Suan said Australia’s successful response to the pandemic had been due to an alliance between leadership, science, and the community.
However, he claimed now it seems had if “the government has left the field”, leaving it up to health experts and the community to figure out the best way forward.
He said if the NSW government was going to continue with lifting restrictions, then it was “essential” for everyone in the community to mask up.
“If we do nothing, if the case curve continues like this for the next six days, then what we’re saying is that we’re just going to keep spreading Omicron between us until Christmas morning,” Dr Suan told the program.
“Then what’s going to happen is that each of those people – which could be tens of thousands of people by Christmas morning – is going to go to a Christmas event with a three generations of family – grandparents, ill people with cancer, immunocompromised people, unvaccinated children – and we’re going to have a Sydney-wide, or NSW-wide, superspreader event.”
Because the virus is “fully airborne” and is so different to the original strain, it means the majority of people in Sydney can be reinfected with the Omicron variant.
“We have the potential, on Christmas Day, to have an enormous superspreader event, all in the same day. And that will appear in our hospitals in the first week of January all at the same time,” he said.
“Which is exactly how you end up with excessive mortality in Covid, when all the people that need care turn up in your hospitals at the same time.”
After the interview, Macdonald said some viewers would likely “be really scared” hearing Dr Suan’s comments, while others would be sick of hearing warnings about Covid-19.
“I think it is fair to acknowledge that, across the spectrum of public health officials, politicians, those making the decisions and those influencing and analysing the decisions, there is a spectrum of views about this,” he said.
“But there is certainly a number of medical professionals that are saying that masks and some of those basic public health measures should be in place, or at least shouldn’t be being eased, as this Omicron variant spreads through the community.
“So it is scary times for everyone, particularly going into Christmas.”