• Rikki Lambert

Looking beyond COVID-19 case candy reporting - to hospitalisations and deaths

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

Regional New South Wales residents in the Riverina and the state's south had their hopes of relief from a statewide lockdown dashed by the Berejiklian government today, despite for some no COVID-19 cases being within cooee of where they live.

The full regional NSW lockdown has been extended to 28 August.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian referred to 3 cases in Wilcannia as justification for the lockdown, 400km from Hay and over 650km from Wagga Wagga.

Less than 8,000 active cases in NSW are contributing to a high national number of active cases amid every state or territory locking down its border to the state.

Regional Victoria has no active cases and has been excused from the snap lockdown still restricting metropolitan Melbourne, while all of South Australia has no active lockdown.

The NSW health dashboard shows there are zero reported cases within hundreds of kilometres of the Murray River and Victorian border:

The area roughly marked yellow contains zero COVID-19 cases

Health authorities are concerned about the long-term trend during the pandemic in Australia, and how case numbers correlate in this latest outbreak to previous fatal outbreaks:

The spike in July represents the number of cases that got loose in Victoria, the latest spike relates to the New South Wales outbreak.

A deeper look at the figures, however, shows that whilst caution is definitely necessary, the NSW outbreak has a far lower cases-to-hospitalisations and cases-to-deaths ratio.

The NSW outbreak has contributed 460 of the 503 current nationwide hospitalisations.

Victoria, with its metropolitan Melbourne lockdown continuing, has 12 hospitalisations, with 2 people in intensive care.

Queensland has its south-eastern Queensland lockdown with 24 hospitalisations, with 1 in intensive care.

Residents of Darwin and Katherine were awaiting news if they would be freed from a three-day lockdown (most of which nationwide have - of late - run past their first-stated durations). The Northern Territory has had 3 hospitalisations, none of which are in intensive care.

South Australia has restrictions in place but has 3 in hospital, none in intensive care.

Looking at New South Wales, it has 383 cases in hospital (which fell 63 cases overnight), with 77 in intensive care (up 8 overnight).

Across the pandemic in Australia, 328 of the almost 1,000 deaths from coronavirus were over the age of 90. Ninety per cent - 897 in all - of the deaths occurred in people over the age of 70.

The Premier today sought to justify lockdown levels by citing the majority of those in intensive care are unvaccinated people. Yet 11 of those people in ICU - 15 per cent of the total were people already vaccinated. This raises questions about the efficacy of the vaccine, if indeed the Delta variant is as fatal as the Alpha variant.

Victoria had over 800 deaths during their outbreak of the original 'variant' of COVID-19 - so far NSW only 114 in this Delta variant outbreak, 25 of which occurred in the last week.

So when looking at the current NSW COVID-19 cases by age, in a state hitherto avoiding the ravages of the pandemic, there is a disconnect between the number of cases, and the number of deaths:

The vast majority of cases are in those under 60 years of age, the deaths are almost exclusively in those over 60 years of age.

The national data on cases over the length of the pandemic show a similar trend on cases:

The capacity for the virus to transmit to vulnerable people remains a constant concern, as they are more likely to die from COVID-19.

However the NSW figures show that controls in aged care facilities and the like are preventing the deaths seen during the Victorian outbreak.

Earlier this week, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners noted something they thought they would never observe - nobody has died from the flu in Australia in the last 12 months.

In 2020, there were just 32 deaths, as opposed to at least 140 deaths per year the preceding four years.

These deaths traditionally struck the elderly, some of whom have now died from COVID-19 but now they are not dying from the flu either.

Virgin Australia CEO Jane Hrdlicka was condemned by some for saying her airline and others in Australia saw the need for Australia to live with the proposition that there would be deaths from COVID-19.

Perhaps attempts to restrict COVID-19 deaths have been so successful, the influenza variants that used to enter Australia are removing the palatability of Australian deaths from influenza also.

Fortress Australia may be saving lives - but at what cost?

Whilst there is a broad economic debate activated by that question, there are also costs that need to be measured.

Firstly, the diversion of health resources into COVID-19 testing away from, say, emergency departments or mental health services.

Secondly, the cost of the fear promoted among Australians by the virus and impacts on mental health.

Those are just some of the reasons that FlowNews24 focuses not on hourly reporting of cases of COVID-19, but hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and the government restrictions imposed based on cases, not hospitalisations.