Christmas could be in jeopardy for a third year as COVID-19 waves set to continue indefinitely, experts warn

Christmas could be in jeopardy for a third year as COVID-19 waves set to continue indefinitely, experts warn

COVID-19 threatens to thwart many Queenslanders’ Christmas plans for a third consecutive year, but the New Year brings the hope of next generation vaccines that may better dampen virus transmission.

With experts predicting COVID waves to roll on indefinitely, Queenslanders are being urged to prepare for a “new normal”, with mandatory mask wearing expected to continue in “vulnerable” settings, such as hospitals and aged care.

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard this week tentatively forecast the next COVID wave to begin in December, although he said it was impossible to predict its severity.

While the third Omicron wave has peaked, Princess Alexandra Hospital Director of Infectious Diseases Geoffrey Playford called on the public to remain vigilant by continuing to wear masks when unable to socially distance and to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines to protect themselves and “keep our healthcare system going as best as it can”.

“We’re all aware in other societies, particularly in South-East Asia, and North Asia, that mask wearing has been a part of normal business, normal society for quite some time – well before COVID-19,” Dr Playford said.

“It may well be that’s where the rest of us go as well.

Masks will be the norm for the foreseeable future. (ABC News: Elizabeth Pickering)

“Humans are incredibly adaptable, and I suspect we will just get to a new normal that we’ll accept as the normal moving forward and we will adapt to that.

“I doubt it will get back to the old normal.”

Hospital balancing act an ‘enormous challenge’

As the fourth year of the pandemic looms in 2023, Dr Playford said the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic had left healthcare workers concerned about the management of other diseases, unrelated to COVID, moving forward.

Dr Geoffrey Playford stands in a hospital corridor.
The Princess Alexandra Hospital’s Dr Geoffrey Playford says hospitals have grappled with enormous challenges.(ABC NewsEmma Pollard)

“People’s cancer screenings, people’s cancer management, all the other non-COVID-related health conditions need to be managed as best as we can side by side with the COVID response,” he said.

“Patients who have COVID need to be managed in specific areas of the hospital and that’s over and above all the other pressures upon our healthcare system and our hospital beds.

“That’s been an enormous challenge trying to balance both.

“Although COVID is circulating within the community and will always circulate within the community … we shouldn’t just be accepting transmission without trying to reduce it as much as possible.

“That takes the pressure off the healthcare system and allows all the non-COVID-related conditions to get the appropriate management that they deserve.”

People in COVID face masks at the Brisbane Cultural Center
Queensland’s third Omicron wave is in decline.(ABC NewsAlice Pavlovic)

In Queensland on Tuesday, 710 people were taking up hospital beds with COVID – down about 36 per cent from the third wave peak of 1,123 on July 26.

The state also recorded 24 COVID deaths in the previous 24 hours, taking the total since the pandemic began to 1,677.

‘Variant-specific boosters’ and nasal vaccines set to roll out

Federal Health Department data shows 65.81 per cent of Queenslanders aged 65 and older have received four doses of a COVID vaccine – just above the national average of 64.87 per cent.

While the first generation of vaccines have not generated herd immunity – creating immunity within the population to effectively quell the spread of COVID – they have been highly successful in reducing hospitalization and death.

A man wearing a shirt, blazer and blue glasses standing in front of ferns.
Infectious diseases specialist Paul Griffin says more than 100 COVID vaccines are undergoing clinical trials.(Supplied)

Infectious disease physician Paul Griffin said 2023 should see the availability of second-generation COVID jabs, including a “variant-specific booster”, that may be better at hosing down infections.

“We’re going to get improved tools to combat this virus,” he said.