Australia is now into its next COVID wave. We’ve seen hints of this for a while. Case numbers and indicators of severe disease began rising in Victoria in August. But it has taken several months for a consistent pattern to emerge across Australia.
Now we see evidence of this new wave via wastewater surveillance for traces of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. We also see rises in COVID-related hospital admissions and antiviral prescriptions. Compared to past waves, this one has built up slowly and over a longer period.
Here’s what we know about this new wave and what to expect over the coming weeks.
How do we know we’re in a new COVID wave?
In earlier waves, when more people were testing for COVID and reporting their results, we were more confident case numbers were a reasonable reflection of how COVID was tracking.
However, now, a more useful indicator for COVID nationally is to look at trends in the number of prescriptions for the antiviral medications ritonavir (Paxlovid) and molnupiravir (Lagevrio) on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
In the graph below, which is drawn from national prescribing data, you can clearly see script numbers rising.
When will we hit the peak?
It has become more difficult to predict the size and timing of the peak. Reduced access to COVID testing and fewer requirements or opportunities to report test results, combined with the slow growth rate for this wave, give a wider range of possibilities.
The wave is also likely to differ between states and territories, as some got off to a later start.