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Hospitals still under COVID strain: Butler

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Hospitals across the country are experiencing large amounts of pressure from COVID-19 despite the peak of the recent Omicron wave passing.

Health Minister Mark Butler says the number of cases in hospital have been falling for several days and are now several hundred below the high recorded a few weeks earlier.

“But still there are close to 5000 Australians in the hospital with COVID, that’s close to one in 12 public hospital beds, so there’s no question that our doctors, and nurses and other hospital workers are still under enormous pressure,” he told ABC Radio on Friday.

Mr Butler said the peak of the recent Omicron wave had appeared earlier than expected, although the amount of strain placed on hospitals had been exacerbated by large numbers of influenza cases.

“It’s much harder in winter because hospitals get so many other cases through their doors in winter as well as flu cases,” he said.

“(COVID-19 has) not become a seasonal virus in the way that influenza is around winter, for example.”

The health minister also expressed concern that the take-up of third vaccine doses was lagging despite a large number of people getting fourth doses following an expansion of eligibility.

“We’ve been seeing more than half a million people get that fourth dose every week, but I am worried about the third dose,” he said.

The government earlier this week announced vaccines had been approved for children aged six months to five years old.

Young children who are immunocompromised or have severe illnesses will have access to the Moderna vaccine from September 5, with an estimated 70,000 from the age cohort eligible.

Mr Butler said chief health officers from across the country were also monitoring whether the isolation period for people who contracted COVID-19 could be reduced.

However, he said he had not received any advice that the current seven-day isolation period should be shortened.

“There’s no question that people are isolating for seven days is utterly inconvenient.

“Distressing as that is, it’s an incredibly important public health measure. We know that particularly with these Omicron variants people are highly infectious over the course of those seven days.”

Meanwhile, a bidding war could erupt among state premiers vying to host a new US-style centre for disease control for Australia.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday signalled possible funding for the new centre – an election promise – in the October budget after discussing the facility with state and territory counterparts in a national cabinet meeting.

Mr Albanese would not be drawn when pressed for further details, saying to “stay tuned” for announcements in the upcoming budget.

LATEST 24-HOUR COVID-19 DATA:

NSW: 12,908 cases, 29 deaths, 2224 in hospital with 63 in ICU

Victoria: 7502 cases, 34 deaths, 699 in hospital with 39 in ICU

– AAP

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