COVID in WA: Health experts warn West Aussies to brace for severe flu season

Headshot of John Flint
John FlintThe West Australian
AMA (WA) spokesman Andrew Miller.
Camera IconAMA (WA) spokesman Andrew Miller. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

As WA recorded its lowest daily increase COVID-19 infections in over one month – further evidence the State is over the worst of the Omicron wave – people are being told to brace for a bad flu season.

The number of new COVID cases dropped to 6242 on Saturday, the smallest increase since May 2.

AMA (WA) spokesman Dr Andrew Miller agreed the current Omicron wave was in decline, but warned more waves were inevitable.

“It’s to be expected that we’re on a downward trend at the moment,” he said.

He said after a trough, infections will rise as people drop their guard and public health measures are relaxed.

“The virus then mutates slightly to get around the vaccines and becomes more transmissible. And then we’ll start going upwards again.”

This was consistent with what epidemiologists predicted would happen, he said.

On Saturday, WA Health reported 10 new deaths which dated back to May 13. They included a woman over 100, four women in their 90s; two men and a woman in their 80s; and two women in their 70s.

At 8pm on Friday, there were 278 people with COVID-19 in WA hospitals, including 11 in intensive care. The total number of active cases in the State stood at 44,731, down from 62,604 one week ago.

With the Omicron wave sloping downward, the State Government has urged people to prepare for a resurgent flu.

In the first two days of June, 32,000 West Australians took advantage of free vaccinations, which last until the end of the month .

“As of 5pm Thursday, 694,399 doses of influenza vaccine have been administered to West Australians, compared to only 627,072 doses in 2021,” a State Government spokesperson said.

The flu has been virtually non-existent for two years due to measures taken to minimise the spread of COVID-19.

“However, with interstate and international travel open, our health authorities are predicting higher cases of influenza this year,” the State Government spokesperson said.

“We are watching closely the high rates of influenza being experienced interstate and overseas as the onset of WA flu season tends to lag other states, which is why it’s so vital for people to get their flu vaccine now to protect themselves and others.”

Dr Miller said how people fared depended on the severity of the circulating flu virus and what they did to protect themselves.

“We would expect that, with having had no infection around in the community (for the past two years), people are a bit more susceptible.” he said. “Maybe the levels of immunity are a bit lower than usual, just because it hasn’t been circulating.

“Whether or not the flu is really aggressive this year depends on the variant”.

“I think on the plus side, people now know what it takes to prevent catching these airborne viruses ... masks and ventilation being the way to prevent it. Hopefully, in aged care facilities and places like that we’ll see less spread because of that (knowledge).

“We will get a flu season but I don’t expect it to be a devastating one, particularly not compared to COVID.”

Dr Miller believed the Government’s Free Jab June initiative was partly motivated by the impact the flu could have on a stressed and buckling health system.

“They just do not have the capacity to take any degree of (extra) respiratory illness,” he said. “The workforce is so burnt out, fatigued, and in many cases have left and relying on the people who are now remaining.”

“Despite having had a pretty reasonable run with COVID, their nightmare is that they get 30 or 40 flu cases (requiring hospitalisation) which tips the entire system into chaos, and they have to cancel elective surgery.”

WA Premier Mark McGowan has urged everyone to get a free flu jab this month, reminding West Australians that about 100 people died from flu during the 2018-19 season.

WA Health has urged people to maintain the hygiene habits that served the State well during the pandemic.

“This includes staying home when sick, wearing a mask, washing your hands and getting vaccinated,” a spokesman said.

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