Sat. May 28th, 2022

NSW Health has admitted child problems with its fast-paced COVID-19 test reporting system, meaning some people may have been counted twice.

This was problematic for making public health decisions as the Omicron outbreak drags on, a leading epidemiologist said.

NSW Health said yesterday’s 91,928 reported COVID cases, which included at least 61,387 rapid antigen (RAT) test results, included double ups.

The system for self-reporting of RATs in NSW went live on Wednesday, making it mandatory to upload all positive RATs received since January 1st.

This backdating has made the numbers “messy”, said epidemiologist Adrian Esterman, and NSW Health has acknowledged that their data may be incorrect.

“There may be some cases included in these numbers where people have reported positive RATs over several days,” a health spokesman said.

“And / or where people also had a positive PCR test during the same reporting period.”

The spokesman said more detailed breakdowns of the recorded RATs would be given “in due course” but could not say when this would be.

“It’s very early days and the teams are still working through all the data and related issues. But when NSW Health can reliably deliver more detailed breakdowns, we will.”

a man sitting at a desk talking into the camera
Adrian Esterman says that the calculation of the reproduction rate now gives “ridiculous answers” due to the influx of RATs.(Delivered: University of South Australia)

Professor Esterman said the cases in NSW were now “almost impossible” to understand, so accurate modeling was difficult.

“The introduction of RAT reporting has muddled the water and made it harder to interpret these things … and we need to know what’s going on so we know when to take further action,” he said.

“For example, in New South Wales, unless something more is done in terms of public health measures, the hospital system will be in deep conflict.”

In Victoria, RATs began to be counted about a week ago, and like NSW, cases quickly doubled overnight because people reported previous infections.

Professor Esterman said that it was complicated to calculate the total percentage of positive tests, as it was not known how many people tested negative at home.

For this reason, he wanted Australia to follow the lead of the UK and issue RATs with QR codes, which people scan before testing themselves and then record a negative, positive or invalid test result.

But he did not hope this would happen in Australia.

Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet has long deterred the public from focusing on case numbers, but Shadow Health Minister Ryan Park said accurate data on infection rates were of great importance.

“Information is important: important for epidemiologists, for modeling and decision-making. It’s important for politicians … it gives a sense of how widespread this is,” Mr Park said.

a man standing outdoors looking
Shadow Minister for Health Ryan Park says the most pressing issue is making faster antigen testing available.

He said the “unreliable” data currently provided by NSW Health was of “significant concern”.

“The numbers are not true representations of the level of societal issues, and that is because it depends on people complying with it and because the government has not made rapid antigen tests available anywhere in society,” he said.

I have had people contact me every single day and spend days after days searching around the community for tests. These people, without their own fault, have not been able to do what is required of them, so there is no exact data set. “

The state government has ordered 50 million RATs, which have already begun arriving in NSW, and is seeking to raise an additional 50 million.

Sir. Perrottet said the national cabinet decided not to distribute free tests to the wider community because private supply chains would “be compromised through this approach”.

He said private providers should have more tenders in the coming weeks.

Professor Esterman said NSW’s case numbers should “settle” for about four to five days after the influx of RATs, which would allow experts to calculate an accurate reproduction rate.

“The good news is that New South Wales is approaching a peak. I can not tell you exactly when it will be, but probably the next two or three weeks will start to get better.

“It’s really just a question of whether their healthcare system can cope with the next two to three weeks with such high case numbers and high admissions.”

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