NSW Covid cases could double within six weeks due to Omicron BA.2 subvariant

Covid-19 cases are expected to double in New South Wales within six weeks as the BA.2 subvariant spreads, the state’s health minister has warned.

The state recorded a significant spike in Covid cases on Thursday, with daily cases jumping by more than 3,000 compared with the previous 24-hour reporting period.

The surge in infections has been attributed to the significant relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in the state and greater socialisation amid the growing prevalence of BA.2.

The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, warned preliminary data from the University of NSW modelling suggested Covid-19 cases would double within the next four to six weeks.

“While the community may have gone to sleep on the virus, the virus hasn’t gone to sleep in the community,” he told a budget estimates hearing on Thursday.

“Anybody who has been watching the numbers in the last few days would notice we’ve seen an increase in apparent cases.

“It is concerning us greatly … we could be looking at cases more than double what we’re currently getting.”

The NSW deputy chief health officer, Dr Marianne Gale, said there remained “significant uncertainties” around projections but it was likely case numbers would increase throughout the autumn months, underpinned by the spreading BA.2 subvariant.

“We don’t know exactly how high the peak may be, how long it may last, exactly when it will come,” she said at the same hearing.

“But it is likely we will see an increase in case numbers over the next weeks and months.”

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Early reports indicate BA.2 may be even more infectious than its already extremely contagious relative BA.1 – the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus that rapidly became the dominant global strain.

But there is no evidence so far that it is more likely to evade protection from vaccines or causes a more severe disease.

On 4 March, the Covid-19 reference rate was sitting at 1.07 in NSW and there were 9,466 new daily cases detected. A week later, the reference rate had jumped up to 1.22 and active cases had also risen by just shy of 7,000.

At the same time, though, hospitalisations and ICU presentations had slightly decreased.

NSW recorded 16,288 new infections and four deaths on Thursday. A total of 991 people were being treated in hospital, including 39 requiring intensive care.

Just 56.3% of eligible people in the state had been administered three doses of a Covid vaccine.

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