‘People are having COVID parties, trying to get infected’: Experts warn against Omicron complacency


With the highly transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant spreading across just about every region in Australia, many have resigned themselves to getting the virus.

But experts are concerned that some people are going around, trying to catch it — at a time suitable to them — to "get it over with".

Although early signs indicate Omicron symptoms are milder than in other COVID-19 variants, epidemiologists are urging Australians to not play "Russian roulette" with their lives, and to get extra protection through booster shots.

Here's how getting the booster can make a difference.

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from January 11 with a look back at our blog.Why you shouldn't 'just get COVID'

University of South Australia's chair of bio-statistics and epidemiology, Adrian Esterman, is concerned people — particularly younger Australians — are becoming blasé about the potentially deadly virus.

"You hear stories of people having COVID parties to try and actually get infected. They're playing with their lives and the lives of their loved ones," Professor Esterman said.

"Even though younger people are less likely to get sick and die — some do.

"We get 30-year-olds, who are dying from COVID-19 without any other pre-existing illnesses. 

"So, it's a bit like Russian roulette. It's up to them if they're willing to take that chance."

Experts are concerned young people are trying to get infected but warn they are playing Russian roulette with their health.(Unsplash: Tim Marshall)

He said it was incorrect to assume that everyone would get COVID-19, and that people should avoid it at all costs because there was no way of pre-empting how one would react to it.

"Up to a third of people who get infected, even mildly, end up with long-term health problems, which we call long COVID," he said.

"They can be things like pain, headache, brain fog, trouble breathing, nerve problems. In fact, COVID-19 can affect just about every organ of the body."

Professor Esterman said the only way to prevent the transmission to yourself and your loved ones was to get the booster.

From January 4, eligible Australians who received their second vaccine shot at least four months ago, have been able to receive a booster dose.

Read more about the spread of COVID-19:

What's the difference between two and three shots?

While two shots can minimise your risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19, topping the two with a booster can significantly reduce the chances of catching Omicron.

"Unless you get your booster, you get almost no protection against being infected with Omicron and we're seeing that now in the case numbers," Professor Esterman said.

Melbourne University epidemiologist Tony Blakely said that, although researchers were yet to obtain "precise" data, early signs showed boosting provided up to 70 per cent protection against infection with the Omicron variant.

"Boosting means, even if you are infected, you are less likely to pass it on … reducing the total number of people likely to get infected by the epidemic's end," he said.

How getting the booster helps end the pandemic

Professor Esterman said that, although we were "certainly nowhere near" the tail end of the pandemic, getting the booster would help speed it up.

"The more people we can get boosted ASAP, the more the wave of Omicron can be slowed down and the peak lessened — which will both reduce the number of people that get sick, and make it easier for health services to manage," Professor Blakely said.

So far, 43.8 per cent — or 3,651, 855 — of people aged 18 and over across the country had received their booster shot. 

Below is the breakdown of boosters administered by states, and the uptake.

States such as Victoria and South Australia have already mandated a third shot for people working in some sectors, such as health care.

Will 'fully vaccinated' change from two to three shots?

"It is inevitable that the definition of fully vaccinated will soon become three doses. I support that," Professor Blakely said.

The Department of Health said the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) currently considered people who've had two shots of a vaccine as fully vaccinated.

"This definition may be updated over time, based on emerging evidence, as required," a department spokesperson said.

Professor Blakely said it was anyone's guess how frequently, going forward, we would need to get boosters, but a "plausible scenario" was every six to 12 months.

There are early indications a booster shot can give 70 per cent protection from the Omicron variant.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

In addition to vaccinating the population, additional public health measures will be needed to slow the spread of Omicron and see the pandemic period transition to an endemic stage.

Meanwhile, New South Wales has banned singing and dancing in venues and Queensland has delayed the start of school year to help bring numbers down.

"They're almost certainly going to have to increase [public health measures] even more in the next two weeks, because hospital numbers are getting too high," Professor Esterman said.

"Right across Europe, for example, they are increasing public health measures. And what are we doing — we're relaxing them.

"So, the answer is, we are not managing it well."

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Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news




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