Prof Catherine Bennett, Prof James McCaw, Dr James Wood among experts hoping for first spring without new wave of COVID-19

“There’s no evidence to suggest that these tests don’t do omicron. In fact, the way these tests are done, they’re quite resistant to mutations in the spike protein,” Dr. Whiting said.

This is consistent with three overseas studies that have shown that RATs remain effective at detecting omicron variants.

Studies have shown that RATs have an overall sensitivity of around 65%, with a sensitivity of 80-90% against more infectious individuals and around 40% for asymptomatic people.

“Opportunistic” providers

But since many RAT suppliers were opportunistic and outside the healthcare industry, they would struggle to provide the new data the TGA needs, such as clinical studies and studies with inactivated or live viruses, said Dr. Whiting.

“I suspect a lot of things are going to fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if 30 or 40 vendors drop out,” he said.

“Many of the products that are listed on the market that are included on the ARTG [Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods] were now very opportunistic suppliers from generally completely different industries.

“They weren’t in health care. Some of them were in security, some of them were in automobiles. We have a forklift driver, for example, asking for his registration.

“And so we’ve had a lot of people who obviously with all the best intentions are trying to help Australians but really don’t have any experience in this area and really aren’t very well equipped to handle all the post surveillance -marketing and the requirements imposed. to protect Australians.

Omicron’s winter surge continues to decline

His comments came as the BA.5 omicron winter wave continues to decline after peaking earlier than expected. The national seven-day average of cases has fallen from a peak of nearly 48,000 cases two weeks ago to around 36,400 on Friday.

The winter wave was mainly powered by the BA.5 omicron sub-variant, which took over from the BA.1 and BA.2 summer and fall variants.

Fears that the highly contagious BA.2.75 variant, which is prevalent in parts of India, could take over have not been confirmed.

According to data analyst Mike Honey, who has closely tracked emerging variants from the open-source genomics database GISAID, the BA.2.75 sub-variant always follows levels below 1%, suggesting that the infection is from returning travelers rather than community infection.

This has led infectious disease modelers and epidemiologists to observe that for the first time since last year’s delta wave, there is no obvious new variant on the horizon.

“You could have reinfection from an existing subvariant, but that seems to be quite low based on some studies that have just come out,” said Deakin Professor of Epidemiology Catherine Bennett.

“So we’re optimistic that as we go through the wave, other than BA.2.75, we haven’t heard of another BA seven or eight in the pipeline, and it’s taking a few months to get going. propagate.

“So if we don’t have another variation, hopefully we can get through this and see the numbers go down as we get closer to spring.”

Professor Bennett said the current BA.5 wave took five months to emerge.

“We don’t see anything new yet, so hopefully we can move into late spring before the next variant arrives.”

Professor Bennett also pointed to South Africa, which is about a month ahead of the Australian wave, which had eliminated its winter wave and was not seeing any waves of new variants.

This is not the end of the pandemic

University of Melbourne professor James McCaw says the horizon for new variants is clearer for the first time, but warned there will inevitably be a new variant that will lead to an increase in infections.

Mathematical biologist from the University of Melbourne, Professor James McCaw, agreed that the ‘horizon’ variant is, compared to earlier times, rather clear. So what’s next is not at all clear this time. Hopefully that also means it will take time.

UNSW modeller Dr James Wood agreed that for the first time since the delta wave, there was no obvious new variant that appeared to cause another large wave of infection in the spring.

“[There is] no evidence that BA.2.75 did anything interesting outside of India and Nepal, and the estimates of growth advantage I’ve seen over BA.5 wouldn’t be enough to lead to a new wave in Australia this spring,” Dr Wood said. .

“I still think we’ll probably see something drift off BA.5 and cause outbreaks in the northern hemisphere this winter, but not good candidates at the moment.”

Professor McCaw warned that this did not mean the end of the pandemic.

“I consider it inevitable that there will be another variant of immune evasion at some point, and that will lead to a resurgence of infections,” he said.

“The link between this and a resurgence or otherwise in clinical burden is unknown.

“Furthermore, if a new variant does not start circulating within the next three to six months, I would expect BA.5 to cause a second, smaller, less impactful wave within the next year. .”

At the same time, the eminent American virologist Trevor Bedford suggested that the world could enter a situation of less infection during summer periods.

Dr Bedford, based in Seattle, pointed to “a scenario in which we find ourselves in a year-round variant-driven traffic pattern with more winter traffic than summer, but not winter flu seasons and summer troughs”.

This suggests a possible summer reprieve for Australia, with Prof Bennett also noting that countries in the northern hemisphere seemed to get through their summer waves faster.

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