Sat. May 28th, 2022

It’s a tale of two eruptions – and, as Charles Dickens wrote in the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

That’s at least the equation for NSW’s hospitals when comparing COVID-19 data from last year’s Delta rise with the current Omicron outbreak.

This is the best time because the risk of getting serious illness right now, for most people, is lower.

But it’s the worst of times, because the number of people at NSW’s hospitals with COVID-19 remains at its highest point ever as a wave of infections sweeps across the state.

An ABC analysis of NSW Health data shows that while nearly 2,200 patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19, only 7.8 percent have been admitted to the intensive care unit and only 2.3 percent need to be ventilated.

This compares with 18.4 percent of patients who were in the intensive care unit on September 14 last year, when the number of cases peaked at 1,253 during the Delta outbreak.

At the time, 8.3 percent needed fans.

Peter Collignon, a specialist in infectious diseases from the Australian National University, said both vaccinations and the less severe Omicron variant were responsible for the decline.

“I think in general this is good news, mostly because it means the vaccines do what they are designed to do, which is to keep people out of the hospital and prevent them from dying,” he said.

Nhi Nguyen, an intensive care specialist at Sydney’s Nepean Hospital, told a news conference on Sunday that anecdotally, patients with the Delta strain had a tendency to get severe pneumonia and have long stays in the intensive care unit.

“While those with Omicron, regardless of whether they are going to the hospital, their hospital stays are much shorter,” she said.

“What we see is that they do not have to go on the fans.”

Nhi Nguyen
Nhi Nguyen says the patients she has seen with the Omicron strain have not needed long stays in the hospital.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

A spokesman for NSW Health said that since December 1, there has been a tendency for shorter hospital stays compared to earlier in the pandemic.

But Professor Collignon said the highly contagious nature of the Omicron variant put enormous pressure on society.

“Even though it spreads much more than I expected, at least from an individual point of view, your risk is lower. But from a societal point of view, it is 10 times lower risk, but 10 times more spread.”

Professor Peter Collignon sits and looks into the camera with a bookcase behind him.
Peter Collignon says the general population is better off for two reasons – vaccination and the Omicron strain.(ABC News: Tamara Penniket)

Hospital admissions increase by 100 or more per day in NSW.

Modeling released by NSW Health last week showed that 4,700 bed rooms were predicted to be occupied by COVID-19 patients on top of the Omicron outbreak, which is expected to arrive within the next fourteen days.

The total bed capacity in NSW is 9,500, with 12,500 beds available when private hospitals are added.

ICU admissions are expected to peak with 273 patients in the coming weeks.

Non-emergency elective surgery in NSW was canceled last week to cope with the flood of patients, and Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said on Sunday that the state’s health system was under pressure as a large number of staff became infected.

A spokesman for NSW Health said from December 16 to January 4 that three-quarters of the COVID-positive patients in the intensive care unit had the Delta variant, and 62 percent were not vaccinated.

NSW Health data showed that from June 16, 2021 to Christmas Day, 2.1 percent of unvaccinated people with COVID-19 ended up in the intensive care unit or died, five times higher than vaccinated cases.

By June 2021, when very few people were vaccinated, 3.6 percent of people with COVID-19 were admitted to the intensive care unit or died or both.

Professor Collignon said that with unvaccinated people disproportionately affected, the way to stem hospital admissions was to get even more people to sting.

“We were in a much better position last year than the year before,” he said.

“There were many fewer deaths relative in September, October 2021, compared to what we saw in Melbourne the year before.

“And now we’re better off again, and that’s a combination of the two – vaccination and Omicron.”

In NSW, 93.7 percent of the adult population has been fully vaccinated and 95.1 percent have received one dose.

On Monday, children between the ages of five and 11 were eligible to receive the plug.

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