Omicron is now the dominant strain in Australia. But experts say Delta’s still ‘out there’


imageOmicron has taken over as the most prevalent coronavirus variant in Australia, but experts say the true scope of infections — and the continued spread of Delta — is still unknown as authorities become overwhelmed with case numbers.The introduction of self-reporting for rapid antigen test results last week, delays in PCR testing and record case numbers over the holiday period mean genomic sequencers — the experts who analyse COVID-positive strains — have been battling to keep up.But the ABC understands that in New South Wales, which has reported the highest number of COVID infections over the past month, genomic sequencers are reporting Omicron is making up about 85 per cent of all infections.Of the patients in ICU in NSW, the ABC understands about 60 per cent have the Omicron strain, with the remaining 40 per cent infected with Delta.And one independent data analyst suggests Omicron is now making up about 90 per cent of infections across Australia.Authorities have been closely watching the rising hospitalisation rates across the country, and although Omicron is widely considered to be a milder version of the virus compared to the Delta strain, the World Health Organization has warned it is not a “mild” disease.NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said this week she knew of at least one “young person” who died after contracting the Omicron strain.She said genomic sequencers were working to confirm which variants were involved in the deaths and hospitalisations of COVID patients.

In Victoria, although the state has introduced mandatory reporting of positive RAT results, genomic sequencing of the variants is not as clear.Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said on Tuesday the breakdown of Omicron and Delta circulating in the state would be something he’d “come back to” later in the week after speaking to the state’s health authorities.

Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said his state, which opened up in mid-December, was seeing a “95 per cent” prevalence of Omicron.Virologist Tony Cunningham, from Sydney’s Westmead Institute, said there was no doubt Omicron had become the dominant strain across the country, but Delta was still “out there”.However, he said it was impossible to know the exact numbers because of the self-reporting of positive RAT results — not yet available in NSW — and the delays over the Christmas period.”We don’t have enough tests to give us totally accurate figures,” he said.

“And this is one of the problems we have with RATs.” Melbourne-based data integration specialist Mike Honey has been analysing data provided to online platform GISAID — which collects genomic sequencing of the virus from across the world — and the Australian-based Communicative Diseases Genomic Network.After “scraping” the data trends over the past two months, he calculates Omicron now makes up more than 90 per cent of all infections Australia-wide.According to the data, Omicron overtook Delta as the most prevalent strain in Australia just over midway through December.This week the World Health Organization said it believed Delta was still the more common strain worldwide , as a record 9.5 million cases of COVID were tallied across the globe — “the highest number” reported so far in the pandemic.According to GISAID, Omicron is yet to take over in some European countries, with Germany (18.3 per cent Omicron), France (48.6 per cent), Italy (38.5 per cent) and the Netherlands (30.7 per cent), reporting numbers lower than 50 per cent.However, Omicron is now responsible for 80 per cent of infections in the UK, 65 per cent of US infections, 90 per cent in Japan and 100 per cent of all infections in South Africa.Professor Cunningham said Omicron was clearly supplanting Delta as the key variant across the world.

“We’re seeing huge numbers in the UK, US, Europe and South Africa,” he said.”But interestingly in South Africa it’s peaking, and in the UK there’s some evidence it might be peaking.”That might give us an indication of what will happen here.

“But clearly we’re still in the expansion phase with Omicron, and you’d have to be a brave person to predict when the peak will occur in Australia.

“It’s clearly much more transmissible than Delta, and we’ve seen it can evade two-dose vaccines.So it’s critical that we encourage as many people as possible to get a booster to ensure we are protected.” Video: Australia suffers record COVID cases, straining businesses and supply chains (Reuters) Registering positive rapid test results now mandatory in NSW Vic.govt to hire health students, retired nurses for booster rollout Adelaide Fringe Festival to go ahead despite high Omicron cases Worker shortages flagged as major issue in Australia’s escalating supply chain issues Heavy rain and winds hit NT coast as cyclone approaches 13yo boy fatally stabbed near Gosford on NSW Central Coast Man’s body recovered in Qld floods as search continues for 14 yo girl Health experts say N95 masks are more effective than cloth masks Victoria records 21 deaths with 946 patients in hospital Dr Anthony Fauci clashes with senator at US COVID inquiry Calls for RATs and N95 masks to curb transmission rates Remote communities in NT facing supply issues as Omicron cases rise SA Health looking for self test system for teachers Qld floods claims another victim as search for missing 14yo girl continues Victoria’s health system under pressure as workers forced into isolation NSW businesses call for more support as COVID restrictions reintroduced.

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