The Queensland government is warning of an escalation in the number of health and hospital staff unable to work due to COVID in the midst of the state’s growing COVID-19 wave.
Ms D’Ath said hospitalisations had increased 140 per cent over the past month, with the health system straining due to the number of staff off sick.
She said there were 2,016 staff furloughed because of COVID. Another 100-plus staff were off with the flu.
Ms D’Ath said the number of people hospitalised with COVID-related illness had surpassed the peak of Queensland’s second wave, around April.
That included 599 in public hospitals and 106 in private.
“That’s the highest number of COVID patients we have seen in our private hospitals since the start of the Omicron wave at the start of this year, so we are watching this closely,” Ms D’Ath said.
“We need to continue to be investing in our public hospitals and building those capacities now and into the future to manage COVID but also the general growth in demand across the hospital system.”
Heading towards a peak of 1,000 hospitalisations
Chief Health Officer John Gerrard warned Queensland’s third wave this year was being driven by the sub-variants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5.
Dr Gerrard said hospitalisations were likely to be “at least as bad as the first wave in January” and could peak at around 1,000 concurrent hospitalisations.
“I’m afraid current modelling indicates that the wave is going to get worse at least until the end of July,” he said.
“There are some models that suggest that might even go longer.
“People should now be thinking about preparing themselves for this wave as it gets worse over the next few weeks, because it is very likely that someone in your environment will be infected with this virus.”
Dr Gerrard said the vast majority of people in hospital were over the age of 65 and were “not up to date with their vaccination”.
While he urged people over 65 to return to mask wearing, Dr Gerrard again repeated that he was not in favour of a mask mandate at this stage.
“If we keep implementing legal mandates every three months and then withdrawing them, I think that’s just divisive and it’s not helpful and I think people will not follow them.”
Despite the pressures, Dr Gerrard believed hospitals would cope.
“They will know what to do, but there will be pressure on them, there’s no way around this,” he said.
“The emergency departments are still functional, there are some delays of course.”
Influenza cases peaking
While the COVID hospitalisations are yet to peak, Dr Gerrard said Queensland was likely at the peak of its influenza epidemic.
“It is very early in the year to have an influenza peak and the numbers of influenza are growing at this stage,” he said.
Ms D’Ath said 40 people had died from influenza since the start of the year.
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