Expert says Western Australia’s COVID-19 cases have peaked, but it’s not out of the woods yet

Western Australia appears to have passed its COVID-19 peak, with new cases now consistently trending downwards.

A key metric – the seven-day average of new infections – has been declining since earlier this month.

It means the peak was almost certainly Wednesday, March 30, when the state recorded 9,754 new cases.

That number is a far cry from the 4,993 infections reported yesterday, although it has to be remembered cases tend to be the lowest early in the week.

While the number of new cases today has jumped to 6,348, it has furthered the decline in the seven-day average.

Three more deaths have been recorded and there are 236 people in hospital, with seven of them in intensive care.

Expert confident cases have peaked

Despite the falling numbers of new cases, it’s not all smooth sailing from here, with a long tail, new outbreaks and even future pandemics still on the horizon.

Professor Archie Clements is the pro-vice-chancellor of health sciences at Curtin University and has been one of WA’s leading epidemiological voices throughout the pandemic.

He is now confident the state has passed its Omicron peak.

A head shot of Archie Clements who wears a suit and tie while standing outside
Professor Archie Clements expects COVID-19 cases to continue their downward trajectory.(ABC News: James Carmody)

“Always you have to be wary because the numbers do jump around,” he said.

“But, I think, because we haven’t seen any major changes, that is really reflective of the epidemic going into the next phase, which is decline.

“That’s what we should expect over, probably, the next six weeks.”

That lines up with modeling released last week by Curtin University and the Telethon Kids Institute, which predicted daily case numbers would likely remain above 5,000 into the middle of next month.

But beyond that, Professor Clements expects cases will continue to rise and fall as new outbreaks occur heading into, and during, winter.

“I’m not sure that those outbreaks will be the same size as the one we’ve just had. It may be that the outbreaks are subsequently smaller and smaller,” he said.

“That’s probably what we’ll see over the next year, failing the emergence of a new variant that changes things.”

Case numbers ‘tracking in the right direction’: Health Minister

In recent days, the state government has maintained it was too soon to officially declare that the pandemic had peaked.

But Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson did confirm confirmation could arrive soon.

A front on photo of Amber-Jade Sanderson speaking into microphones
Amber-Jade Sanderson says authorities will have a clearer picture of the situation on Tuesday or Wednesday.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

“We know that testing rates drop over the weekend. So, by about Tuesday or Wednesday, I think we’ll have better information about whether the state has passed its peak or not,” she said on Saturday.

“It will be up to the Chief Health Officer to make that determination, but certainly the numbers are tracking in the right direction and in a downward trend.”

Ms Sanderson quickly dashed hopes of mask rules being ditched any time soon though, reiterating how critical they have been to limiting the impact of the state’s Omicron wave.

“Masks will probably not be lifted too early, because they’ve genuinely helped slow down that transmission,” she said.

A yellow sign on a bus window reading 'Please wear a mask on public transport'.
Masks have been crucial in stopping the spread of the virus.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Hospital admissions below what was predicted

State government modeling had predicted that, the week before last, when cases peaked, there would be between 67,000 and 76,000 new cases reported.

Instead, there were about 57,476 new infections.

A graph showing actual ICU admissions verse predicted admissions
ICU admissions have been well below the number predicted by the modeling.(Supplied: WA Health)

Hospital and ICU admissions are also lower than expected, with just a fraction of the estimated figures materializing.

“There are definitely challenges ahead, but I think the hospital system has been less challenged than we expected,” Professor Clements said.

Unvaccinated people continue to be significantly over-represented in hospital admissions, accounting for 31 per cent of admissions in the week of the peak, but only being about 1 per cent of the population.

Pandemics could become more frequent, says the expert

While Professor Clements says Western Australia has faced its biggest challenges, and passed with flying colors, he is worried about people becoming too complacent now the state is on the other side of the crest.

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