Australia: New variants of COVID-19 are fueling a new wave of infections

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Rank-and-file Health Care Worker Committee and Public Education Committee Hold Joint Meeting online public meeting on Sunday November 20 at 3 p.m. (AEDT), entitled “United educators and health workers: Opposing the end of COVID protection measures! Life before profit!”

The meeting will present a political perspective, including the creation of grassroots committees, to unify health workers, educators and other sections of workers. Register now: https://bit.ly/3CRCuOh

Staff prepare to collect samples at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia, Saturday January 8, 2022. [AP Photo/(AP Photo/Mark Baker)]

COVID-19 cases are rising again across Australia, driven by the highly contagious and immunocompromised Omicron XBB and BQ.1 subvariants.

It’s part of a global upsurge in the virus, with many new subvariants, described as a “soup of variants”, spreading amid already waning levels of vaccine immunity. The continued spread of the virus is the result of governments’ deliberate, profit-driven, “let it rip” policies with the systematic and widespread removal of public health measures to stop the spread of the virus.

More than 60,000 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded across Australia in the week ending November 11, up from around 40,000 the previous week. In Australia’s most populous states, New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, the number of new infections has increased by more than 50% week after week. That does not include the more than 800 COVID-positive passengers on the Majestic Princess cruise ship which docked at Circular Quay in Sydney on Saturday.

Since the start of the pandemic, 15,870 people have died of COVID-19 in Australia, according to official figures. This includes 83 deaths reported in the week ending November 11.

Across the country, 1,796 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, up from 1,395 on November 4, including 66 in intensive care, 25 more than the previous week.

The increase in the number of cases is in line with warnings from health experts about increased detection of COVID-19 in sewage tests. However, the dismantling of testing, with reporting of positive rapid antigen tests no longer mandatory, means that the actual number of cases is much higher.

The push comes as Albania’s Labor government has removed the last vestiges of a public health response to the pandemic, with COVID-19 isolation requirements for those infected and federal pandemic leave payments for positive workers to COVID ended on October 14.

The measures followed the end of daily COVID reporting by the Labor government, which made it impossible to monitor the pandemic, as well as the lifting of mask mandates on public transport in September – the last mask mandates outside the health and care facilities for the elderly. It came amid Australia’s deadliest period of the pandemic, with August recording the highest death toll.

Despite the spike in cases, state and federal governments have made it clear that there will be no reinstatement of even the most basic public health measures. In every state and territory, for those who test positive for COVID, it is “recommended” that they self-isolate at home until symptoms resolve. Wearing a mask for HIV-positive people who are in public is also recommended only.

In Queensland, face masks have been recommended more widely, “indoors when people cannot socially distance, in healthcare settings and around elderly or vulnerable people”. However, it is not mandatory and the type of mask is not specified, while it has been medically established that N95 masks, at a minimum, are required to protect against airborne transmission of COVID-19. Surgical or cloth masks are totally inadequate, despite the fact that most state health departments only provide surgical masks to their health care workers.

The population is being forced to be exposed to dangerous and increasingly vaccine-evasive COVID-19 variants under conditions of already declining immunity. Less than 25% of the adult population has received a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Only people over the age of 30 are eligible to receive this booster, as well as people five years or older who are “severely immunocompromised”. Children between the ages of five and fifteen can only receive two doses.

Additionally, recent serological surveys suggest that at least two-thirds of Australia’s population, or 16.9 million people, have been infected with COVID-19 at least once. It is estimated that a fifth of all adults in the country contracted the virus between June and August.

Blood samples from children and adolescents also showed that the rate of COVID-19 infection among those under 20 was similar to that of the general population, with 64% of samples testing positive and a slightly higher rate among school-aged children.

Studies have also shown that COVID-19 reinfections have a cumulative impact, weakening the immune system and significantly increasing the risk of death, hospitalization and Long COVID.

A recent report from Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and the Age found that Long COVID clinics in Australia are so under-resourced that patients are waiting up to a year for treatment.

The Victorian government, in a submission to a federal inquiry, found the disease affected some 218,000 people statewide, 41,000 of whom had a severe form.

Professor Steven Faux, co-director of the Long COVID Clinic at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, where there is an 11-month waiting list for treatment, told the Age and the SMH, “We have been inundated with limited resources. We only have the capacity to open one day a week. We have no staff; we can’t get them. I can’t find any physios; I can’t find any psychologists.

The systematic removal of COVID-19 public health measures, beginning in December 2021 in Australia, has resulted in over 13,500 deaths from COVID-19 this year alone. This endless wave of death and disease has created a disaster in health care, education and in the working class in general.

In healthcare, hospitals are already continuously overwhelmed, with reports of record levels of ambulances in several states, patients being treated in hospital hallways due to lack of beds and delays in care. potentially fatal. Healthcare workers face impossible workloads and soaring patient-to-nurse ratios, which compromise patient care.

The unfettered spread of COVID-19 has only exacerbated an existing public health crisis produced by decades of underfunding and privatization by successive governments. A recent report from the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine for 2020-21, found that the healthcare system in Australia has “never been in worse shape” and that “there have never been more people needing acute healthcare, people have never had such complex healthcare needs and the healthcare system has never been so strained… if you need emergency healthcare in Australia right now, you wait longer than ever before.

In schools across the country, throughout the year, there were reports of chronic daily shortages of teachers due to illness, with lessons being combined or cancelled. This week it was reported that Tangara School for Girls, Sydney, NSW, has moved Years 7-11 to remote learning for the rest of the week after reporting that a third of its staff, as well as a high school student, had tested positive for COVID. As COVID-19 outbreaks occur more widely in schools, many lack adequate resources to deliver distance education.

Despite growing opposition from health care workers, educators and other sections of workers to the intolerable conditions this has caused, unions have supported the lifting of restrictions and have consistently opposed lockdowns and other public health measures.

The industrial action of nurses, teachers, and other public sector workers in several states, who face the same intolerable conditions and wage deductions, has been isolated and divided to ensure that no unified action at the level national is not possible. Health Services Union NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes actively campaigned for an end to COVID-19 isolation requirements, before they were scrapped, saying he was concerned about the impact it was having on “the economy ”, ie on the profits of the companies.

The ongoing pandemic and the increasing death toll and suffering caused by Long COVID are ultimately the product of the capitalist system, which subordinates all social needs to profit interests.

To advance a unified fight for the global elimination of the pandemic and the adoption of public health measures based on what is necessary to protect health and life, and not on corporate profit, new organizations of fight are necessary. Rank-and-file workplace committees must be created, independent of the unions and democratically controlled by the workers themselves, to coordinate and advance this struggle.

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