While Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the east coast floods have dominated the news over the past fortnight COVID-19 has not taken any time off. And, as it has done so often before, it has delivered some unpleasant surprises.
The worst has been the emergence of a new Omicron variant christened sub-variant BA.2 to distinguish it from the BA.1 variant we already know and loathe.
Identified as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organisation some time ago, BA.2 is already the dominant strain in many parts of the world, including Denmark, South Africa and parts of the UK. It is apparently even more contagious than the original Omicron variant.
UNSW School of Population associate professor James Wood says it is about 25 per cent easier to catch than BA.1.
BA.2 has apparently been in the community in Australia for some time and, according to Dr Wood, is likely to be the dominant strain here in the coming weeks and months.
While the jury is still out on whether or not BA.2 is more severe than BA.1, the likelihood is more people will now catch COVID-19 and, as a result, there will also be a spike in hospitalisations and deaths.
Omicron, as hundreds of thousands of Australians of all ages have learnt the hard way, is not the "mild disease" it was originally billed to be. People of all ages, including young children, have ended up in intensive care and some have died as a result.
The arrival of BA.2 has coincided with a noticeable increase in cases and deaths in the ACT, NSW, Victoria, Queensland and elsewhere following the relaxation of mask mandates and social distancing regulations throughout the last month.
It also comes at the same time Western Australia has just re-opened its borders and is already seeing a surge in case numbers.
And, to make matters worse, the opportunity to use the last two months to get close to 100 per cent of Australians triple vaxxed - the best defence against a severe bout of the disease - has been squandered.
Federal, state and territory governments have put nothing like the effort they put into having the population double vaccinated during the Delta outbreak in 2021 into getting people to have their boosters. Indeed, some of the messaging that Omicron might even be a good thing and that people were unlikely to get very sick, has been counterproductive.
This is why the lagging booster rollout was high on the agenda during Friday's national cabinet meeting; the first in just over what has been a very long month. The figures are damning with only 46.2 per cent of all Australians triple vaxxed at this point. While the ACT is doing better than anywhere else in the country with 56.82 per cent of people boosted compared to the Northern Territory's woeful 39.41 per cent, this is still a poor result given the uptake in vaccinations we saw last year.
Where are the community education and advertising programs urging people to roll up their arms one more time? What is it that makes prime ministers, health ministers, premiers and chief ministers think that if they stand up and ask people to have a booster at a press conference then they have done their job?
Not everybody has their eyes glued to the news channels. Why are advertisements on prime time television so far and few between?
While the medical advice that the third shot can make all the difference is unequivocal, the word just isn't getting out. And, although mandates have been rolled back, why isn't more being done to encourage people to voluntarily wear masks, to keep their distance and to wash their hands?
The pandemic is far from over. Vaccinations and vigilance remain our best defences.
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