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We've reached the peak: Infections waning on Gold Coast, southern states

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Health Minister Greg Hunt has declared that the Omicron surge had reached its peak in southern states, with the Gold Coast now “close to or past the current peak”  and Brisbane expected to follow within days.

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Hunt said the Omicron wave had peaked in southern states, with infections now trending downward in NSW, Victoria, the ACT and South Australia.

It comes as Australia’s leading advisory group on vaccines gave the final approval to the Novavax vaccine.

Queensland on Monday recorded another 13 deaths and 10,212 new cases.

But in good news, the numbers of people in hospital on the Gold Coast has declined steadily for the past four days leading to optimism that the region has now past the worst.

The state’s Chief Health Officer, Dr John Gerrard, warned that whilst overall hospital numbers were not in their thousands as expected, the wave was not over for the rest of the State.

Dr Gerrard said that on Monday there were 50 people in intensive care which is up slightly from 47 yesterday. Significantly, of these 40 per cent are unvaccinated.

“This is the peak, it is not the end. We have very significant transmission in the community at the moment and the end will not be for a number of weeks.

“It is early but the number of people in hospital appears to be significantly lower than we had expected at this stage. This, we believe, has to do with people’s change in behaviour in avoiding getting infected,” Gerrard said.

He said that it had been anticipated that by now there would be several thousand in hospital. On Monday there were 878 in Queensland public hospitals.

“So far the impact of the epidemic is less than we expected,” Gerrard said, adding that he was being cautious as Brisbane had yet to reach its peak.

But he said in the next week Brisbane and Cairns were expected to hit their peak.

And in two weeks, on January 31, when schools reopen, there will be more transmission and an extension of the peak.

“It may well be that we have a longer, flatter peak.”

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the lower than expected hospitalisations was a “huge relief”.

“We were expecting thousands upon thousands of people in our hospitals … but I don’t want to get ahead of it at the moment. I am very cautiously optimistic and I want to see what happens in the next couple of weeks,” Palaszczuk said.

She said Cabinet would meet this week and formulate a plan for schools reopening.

But she would not be drawn on whether the State plans to follow NSW and Victoria and have pupils and teachers take rapid antigen tests.

“There is no health advice at the moment that says children need to be tested from the chief health officer or AHPPC. I want to consider that and make sure we get it right for the parents and children of this state,” Palaszczuk said.

Of the 13 people who lost their lives, four were in their 70s, seven in their 80s and two in their 90s. Three were unvaccinated, one had received one dose of vaccine and nine had received two doses. None had received a booster shot.

The Novavax vaccine, the fourth to be approved in Australia for Covid-19, will be rolled out from February 21. People wanting to get the Novavax vaccine will need two doses spaced 21 days apart.

Greg Hunt said Covid-19 figures in several states and territories were showing promising signs.

“We’ve seen a decrease in case numbers significantly and we’ve seen a decrease in hospitalisation numbers of over 100 in Victoria and NSW,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

“That will flow through to ICU numbers and ventilation, so it’s an important moment where we are seeing now clear signs this Omicron wave … has peaked.”

NSW reported 15,091 new cases and 24 deaths on Monday, while there were 17 deaths and 11,695 cases in Victoria.

Tasmania registered 619 new infections and no deaths.

Hunt said the hoarding of rapid tests had also contributed to the widespread supply issues across the country, but indicated there would be enough stock for pharmacists going forward.

However, he warned retailers who were price gouging tests would be targeted by the consumer watchdog.

“There were clear cases where there had been some hoarding, unfortunately it does include people that were scooping up to resell at inflated prices,” he said.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government ordered rapid tests too late, and then sought to shift the blame.

“They got their ads ready before they ordered the tests. Something that characterises this government is it sits back, waits for something to become a crisis then it blames others for the problem,” he told the ABC.

Since the pandemic began some 1112 people have died from Covid-19 in NSW, including 227 in the past week.

Meanwhile, an extra two million rapid antigen tests will be delivered to NSW schools before lessons resume for 2022.

Two test kits per week will be issued to 1.3 million pupils and staff across 3000 primary and secondary schools throughout February. Early education and childcare centres are also included in the scheme.

It comes after the Victorian government unveiled its back-to-school plan ahead of students returning to classrooms from January 31 amid the Omicron wave.

It will feature a four-week rapid antigen test scheme, with students and staff asked to get tested twice a week before school.

More than 14 million RATs will be delivered to primary and secondary schools as well as early childhood centres across the state, including 6.6 million before the first week of term one.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the regime would shut down chains of transmission, although cases were inevitable once students go back.

Over Victoria’s previous six lockdowns, hundreds of thousands of students studied from home for more than 150 days.

Education Minister James Merlino said Covid-hit schools would only return to remote learning as a short-term “last resort” from now on.

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