Australia Day may be the day when Omicron finally peaks in the major cities with experts hoping the country will be able to return to normal in the weeks that follow.
Major Australian cities could see a dramatic drop off in Covid-19 infections by the end of January as the Omicron surge ‘runs out’ of ‘core’ carriers to infect.
While new Covid cases topped 84,000 Australia-wide on Tuesday – including 38,000 in Victoria, 26,000 in NSW and 20,466 in Queensland – there are underlying signs that alarming tally could dramatically improve by the end of this month.
So many of Omicron major carriers, people aged between 20 and 30, have been exposed already that the virus will began failing to reproduce when it meets people with immunity.
Australia Day may be the peak of Omicron in the big cities with experts hoping the country will be able to return to normal in the weeks that follow (pictured, a women carrying an Australia Day flag poses for a photo at The Mercantile Hotel in Sydney on January 26, 2021)
Young revellers have been the major spreaders of Omicron but they may be the unlikely reason why the variant burns itself out quickly too (pictured, New Year’s Eve revellers at Surfer’s Paradise)
So many of the major Omicron carriers, people aged between 20 and 30, have been exposed already that the virus will began failing to reproduce when it meets people with immunity (pictured, friends at Schoolies’ week at Byron Bay)
Initially that will happen in hotspots where the virus has run rampant, including vast areas of Melbourne and Sydney, and in Newcastle.
While regional outbreaks may continue, overall Australia’s Omicron spread will slow by mid-February, according to Catherine Bennett, chair in Epidemiology at Deakin University.
‘South Africa saw their peaks in these kinds of timeframes. Hopefully high rates of transmissions we will start to see it turn around in similar timeframes,’ she said.
‘We’d expect to see waves within the big wave hopefully start to turn around in Australia in the very near future, in about two weeks, so before the end of January,’ Ms Bennett said.
Young tradies are among the workers who kept working through lockdowns, contributing to virus spread – but also potentially bringing about the end of the pandemic sooner (pictured, two tradies eating breakfast beside Manly Beach)
Young people have done their bit to get vaccinated, sometimes so they could party (pictured, stock image of a young woman have a nasal swab)
Catherine Bennett believes the continued mixing of young people, including at work, could mean the Omicron surge runs out of carriers by the end of January (pictured, two traffic attendants in Sydney)
The rest of the country will follow, meaning Australia will see the virus spread slowed by mid-February.
‘We know the virus mainly spreads in young adults and twentysomethings, because they are the ones mixing most socially and also they are the essential workers,’ Ms Bennett said.
‘As you get enough people who’ve had the infection it naturally slows it down because the virus keeps on meeting people who have had it.
‘Those areas with high rates will reach a point where there just aren’t as many people susceptible in the community.’
The continuing booster rollout will play a big part in the virus hitting a brick wall of immunity in the community, she said.
Ms Bennett said the way people aged between 20 and 30 have spread the virus will ironically play a huge role in the virus slowing down
Catherine Bennett says the pandemic will be considered over when the impact on hospitals reduces sufficiently (pictured a twentysomething nurse on the frontlines)
The continued vaccination of young people will only make it more difficult for the virus to spread as serious illness is reduced by boosters (pictured, a young person receiving a vaccination)
‘Every family I know seems to have someone in their 20s who bring it home.
‘They’re helping that rapid spread, but they are also the group that will slow down the virus first.’
While Ms Bennett was not encouraging young people to spread the virus, she said it was inevitable that they would.
She said it is now acknowledge that ‘even during lockdowns it was impossible to stop them mixing.’
‘It’s a natural thing for them, that’s the group that mixes for work and socially. It’s what they do, it’s who they are.
Ms Bennett said in some areas more than a quarter of cases are people in their 20s.
But the spread of the virus in aged care homes and other high density residential settings could remain a concern.
Predicting the complete end of the pandemic as a phenomenon is more complex, but ultimately it could be measured by its impact on hospitals, she believes.
The most obvious way is when hospitals are less impacted – by particularly by Delta admissions and because they have new infection control plans in place that work for all staff and patients.
‘If Omicron settles and pushes out Delta and we go into winter with higher vaccination levels it gives us great opportunity to keep monitoring and managing it so we can live our lives pretty normally.’
‘Winter could be business as usual, although it is still a new normal.’
The other sign Covid is over is less tangible: it is when people’s sense of uncertainty is reduced.
She thinks that is already happening, partly through the growing acceptance that we must ‘live with’ the virus.
‘It’s not over yet clearly, not in the middle of an Omicron wave. People can travel anywhere in Australia, but are they? They are still being cautious.’
Young people have filled many essential worker roles right through the pandemic (pictured, s worker performs a quality check on punnets of strawberries at the Ashbern strawberry farm on the Sunshine Coast)
Boosters and vaccinations have dramatically changed the course of the pandemic (pictured, a health care worker fills a syringe with Pfizer vaccine at the COVID-19 mass vaccination clinic at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre in Perth in November)
But gradually we are accepting the uncertainty, she believes.
‘What would we have made of Omicron six months ago? Now with the high rates of vaccination we have I think it’s means something very diifferent.’
As for when we can ‘get on with our lives’, Ms Bennett believes the public is already adjusting to a point they can live without government restrictions.
‘I think we are in that final phase, where people begin to get back to their lives,’ she said.
‘[Health departments] want to have people on board, people knowing what to do and doing the right thing – that’s your public health intervention,’ she said.
‘Hopefully now were far enough along to say “you can use your own judgement” [and that] schools and businesses never have to close again.’
But overall she sees uncertainty reducing.
Supermarket workers have fought hard to keep shelves and fresh food stocked during the pandemic (pictured a Woolworths employee)
‘Time take care of it. People who were in wars learned to change their attitudes – society can only remain anxious for so long before they just says ‘this is how it is.’
The one familiar sign of Covid Ms Bennett keeping is widespread use of masks – but mostly optional.
‘I’m not sure masks will ever become “a thing of the past”,’ she says.
‘I think they are now a thing, they’re normalised. Kids are not shocked by them any longer.
‘If we have a bad flu season it could become recommended to wear a mask indoors.
‘Why wouldn’t you if it reduced the chances of getting a cold. Other countries do it.’