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Oh no, not you again: As Covid restrictions ease, reinfection fears spark renewed calls to get booster

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Experts are renewing calls for people to get their Covid-19 booster dose in the wake of rising infections and hospitalisations, just as Queensland eases vaccine mandates.

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Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there were continuing reinfections from the Omicron variant that were escaping immune responses bolstered by vaccinations.

“We are seeing reinfection, we know that Omicron, having had a previous dose of one of the other variants of Covid-19, did escape that immune protection from both a previous dose and from only two doses of vaccine,” Kelly told Sky News.

“Sub-variants of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 have now become the dominant strain in the UK (and are) growing particularly on the east coast of Australia.”

But the renewed concern comes as the Palaszczuk Government prepares to scrap Covid-19 vaccine mandates for workers in schools, prisons and airports and visitors to aged care and disability care facilities.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told parliament Queenslanders would soon no longer need to be vaccinated to work in schools, childcare, prisons and airports or to visit jails, aged care and disability facilities.
She said the changes would come into effect from 1am next Thursday.

“Restrictions that have protected us have eased in sensible stages, and today I announce with the advice of the Chief Health Officer, we are removing some of the last remaining Covid restrictions,” she told parliament on Friday.

Palaszczuk said individual employers will still be allowed to continue mandates in schools, daycare, prisons and airports.

She said mandates will remain in force for workers in healthcare, hospital, aged care and disability care facilities.

Queensland would also dump pre-arrival testing for travellers arriving in the state from overseas.

Kelly said while the Covid variants circulating in Australia were more transmissible, there had not been any uptick in the severity of the disease.

“We will see reinfections over the coming weeks and months, unfortunately with that one, but what we’re not seeing is a large increase in severe disease,” he said.

“That’s really due to the vaccine protection which can be boosted with a third and fourth dose.”

Treatments and the availability of Covid-19 antivirals have also aided in the response to serious cases of the virus, Kelly said.

Epidemiologists are also warning of a rise in reinfection and people developing severe bouts of the disease.

Deakin University epidemiology chairwoman Catherine Bennett said the broader community would be at greater risk of infection in weeks to come.

“We are seeing what we feared might happen, particularly the convergence of a troubling flu season after having had a couple of years of respite,” she told Sky News on Thursday.

“With Covid, we’re also seeing the numbers stay high and that’s partly because Omicron now has that possibility of having reinfection in ways we haven’t seen before, particularly with these new variants.”

NSW health authorities said Omicron variants were likely to become the dominant virus strains in coming weeks, warning of a rise in infections even among those who have already had Covid-19.

Prof Bennett said each new variant would be more transmissible, making it more difficult for people to avoid catching the virus when out in public.

She said some of the people who received their booster early in the rollout may have their protection from the virus starting to wane.

Only 70 per cent of the eligible population has received their booster dose.

“The message is, if you haven’t had your booster, have it,” Bennett said.

“It’s really important that people get tested early and are made aware whether they’re candidates or not for antivirals, so that might help with high infection rates.”

Victoria will lift some of its restrictions at midnight on Friday, with positive cases from Saturday able to drive a member of their household to or from education or work without leaving their vehicle.

Mandates for third vaccine doses will also be lifted for workers in education, food distribution and quarantine settings, with vaccine policies up to individual workplaces.

Opposition health spokeswoman Anne Ruston said while cases were rising in parts of the country, emergency pandemic measures across states and territories should be lifted.

“Australians really are asking their premiers and their chief ministers to let them get on with their lives,” she told Sky News.

“We actually have to learn to live with this virus, and the way to learn to live with it is to allow people to make their decisions.”

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