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Remember the virus: Covid fatigue pushes pandemic to background

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Australia has the highest per capita Covid-19 infection rate in the world, with about 40 people dying from the virus every day but health authorities are concerned the pandemic has slipped off the national agenda.

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Almost 7800 Australians have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, however, science and health writer Jane McCredie says “we have pretty much stopped talking about the biggest challenge our health system has ever faced”.

Last week Australia had an estimated 350,000 active cases and by the end of December, just over 400,000 Australians had contracted the virus, she wrote in the InSight, the weekly online news magazine of the Medical Journal of Australia.

The number of total of Australians who had contracted the virus is now more than 6.45 million.

“That’s more than five million people in five months, and it’s bound to be an underestimate given the move to reliance on self-testing,” she wrote.

Due to high vaccination rates, the disease is a lot less deadly than it was at the start of the pandemic although dozens of people are still dying every day.

“The reduction in mortality is no doubt one of the factors in our loss of interest, but a more compelling reason I suspect is that we are all simply exhausted,” she said.

Public Health Association of Australia CEO Terry Slevin told the MJA that the disease had taken an extraordinary toll on frontline health workers.

“After two years on high alert, plunging in and out of isolation, starting at every stranger’s cough, sanitising our hands like there’s no tomorrow, we just don’t have the energy anymore.”

Our apathy could have real-world consequences, Professor Slevin said.

“Already we’re seeing a fight for people in public health to hang on to what resources they’ve got.

“The all-important focus groups must be telling our politicians we don’t care about this stuff, because otherwise, they’d be talking about it.”

Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said a mix of fatigue and complacency have seen the virus shunted from the national spotlight.

“I think, past the silliness of this election, we do need to refocus,” he told the ABC on Sunday.

“Because this is adding an extra layer of healthcare needs, which is beyond what we’ve had in the past.”

He warned the health system was also trying to help thousands of Australians suffering from long Covid.

“Which is, I think, something as a community we haven’t acknowledged,” Moy said.

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