CMO denies he’s lost track of covid numbers

4 minute read

If Professor Paul Kelly is clear on the true number of covid cases in the country, then he’s on his Pat Malone.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has denied that Australia has “lost track” of community transmission of covid despite a DoHAC national case tracker described as a “dog’s breakfast” last week by a leading epidemiologist. 

Speaking on ABC News Breakfast on Friday Professor Kelly was asked directly about comprehensive covid data being a “thing of the past”. 

“I don’t think it’s true to say we’ve lost track [of community transmission],” Professor Kelly replied. 

“We had a lot of discussion almost 18 months ago now about treating covid more like other infectious diseases. So it is – we are monitoring it like we do other infectious diseases. 

“We don’t know absolutely how many flu cases there are in the community every winter [for example].  

“But we do know when flu starts. We do know when it gets worse. And all of those monitoring things that we have, particularly for severe disease, are continuing and we’re watching those very closely.  

“So we are continuing to watch. We don’t know every single case, but it’s not absolutely necessary to do that. You do need to know when there’s a change, and we’re monitoring that. We’ve picked up the JN.1 issue quite early. That was something we picked up in early December, particularly in Victoria and we’ve been monitoring that as well.” 

Professor Kelly also doubled down on the concept of “hybrid immunity” from previous infections, saying it was the main reason Australia had not seen the “huge disruption to the community or to health services, or that very severe disease and death that we were seeing earlier in the pandemic”. 

Last week, biostatistician and epidemiologist at the University of South Australia Professor Adrian Esterman told HSD that the DoHAC’s national case tracker was “a dog’s breakfast” which was “impossible to use”, not up to date, and leaves case numbers “almost uninterpretable”.  

“A year ago we were getting weekly updates from states and territories on how many cases there were, how many hospitalisations, how many ICU admissions, how many deaths … and most people were testing,” he said. 

“So we had a pretty good handle on how good or bad things were getting. Now it’s exactly the opposite.” 

Professor Kelly said hospitalisation admission numbers for covid were misleading. 

“Some people that come into hospital are tested, [and found positive] but they’re not there due to their covid, if that makes sense,” he said. 

Confusing and conflicting advice about covid booster shots was not made any clearer by Professor’s Kelly’s comments on the issue. 

“I think that’s a personal choice issue,” he said. 

“It depends on how people are feeling about their own personal risk. In reality, people at that younger age group are no longer at risk of severe complications from covid, really, in the majority.  

“So it’s a risk-benefit equation people should consider.” 

Meanwhile, the situation in aged care homes continues to be of concern with the latest data showing 3195 active covid cases in 459 outbreaks in Australian residential aged care facilities. 

There have been 204 new outbreaks, 32 new resident deaths and 2961 combined new resident and staff cases reported since 4 January 2024, according to a new DoHAC national snapshot

The worse news, according to Aussie Pharma Direct’s Daniel Sheldon, is that as of 10 January, only 30.1% of aged care residents had received a booster vaccination in the past six months. 

“That’s a rather concerning figure and needs to improve we are to keep our elderly safe and healthy,” said Mr Sheldon. 

A new rapid antigen test called Sonictec which screens for covid as well as Influenza A and B in the one test, costs around 50% less than many other brands, according to Mr Sheldon. 

“While it’s easy to dismiss covid as a simple cold, flu, and a minor inconvenience, it’s a bit of a Russian roulette, and the more times you get it, the higher your chance of getting long covid, and no one wants that, that’s for sure,” he said. 

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