opinion

Yes, COVID case numbers are rising. But here's why we shouldn't be panicking.

COVID cases are on the rise across Australia as the Omicron variant makes its mark. 

Despite a rocky start we've done exceptionally well on the vaccine front with 89 per cent of people aged 16 and over double jabbed. And yet we're staring down the barrel of another COVID-ridden Christmas with thousands predicted to be in isolation for December 25.

It's like a déjà vu flashback circa 2020, except this year there's one major difference: our hospitalisation and death rates are a fraction of the size when compared to infection numbers.

We've got vaccines to thank for that. 

Listen to Mia, Holly and Jessie discuss how Australians are feeling about COVID potentially ruining another Christmas. Post continues after podcast.

But the vaccine was never a tool for elimination, just like a seatbelt doesn't prevent car accidents. In both instances, the main goal of preventative measures is to limit death and hospitalisation. 

And it's doing that. 

The secondary reason we all got jabbed was because it is harder for the virus to spread amongst vaccinated populations. But experts have been warning us from the beginning that it will still spread, especially as the virus mutates (as it has done) into more infectious versions of itself. 

Just as predicted, it's doing that too.

Despite how it feels as we watch the media revert back to reporting daily case numbers, the pandemic is playing out how experts told us it would. And the good news is, politicians also planned for that reality. This is what living with COVID looks like. This is what they've been basing their roadmaps to normality on. 

As our states and territories remove more and more restrictions rising case numbers were inevitable. Sure they've been turbo-boosted by the highly infectious Omicron variant, but from what we've learnt thus far, it's a much less deadly strain. This is also good news. Once again that's helping our main goal here - less death. Less hospitalisation. 

We're a fatigued bunch 22 months into a pandemic that's upended our lives. We've missed, lost and sacrificed so much and so we're frightened. There's only so much disappointment we can handle, and for many of us, a cancelled Christmas might just be the final straw. 

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It's a completely valid fear. I have the same anxiety. If you catch COVID from here on in, the reality is you will have to isolate yourself from loved ones for Christmas. Same goes if you're a close contact. 

However, if you're vaccinated, you'll likely emerge out the other end alive. We have to keep reminding ourselves of that. The fact that the vast majority are worrying that a virus infection will force them to sit out of Christmas lunch, is a good thing. This time last year the fears were much more sinister. 

Allow me to throw some numbers at you. 

In 2020, Victoria recorded around 20,000 cases and had 820 fatalities from Covid - a 4.1 per cent death rate. 

In 2021 they've so far had 119,000 cases and 623 deaths, which equates to a percentage of 0.5 per cent. 

600+ deaths is still a horrible statistic of course, but we've only reached high levels of vaccination rates in the latter half of 2021. 

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Come 2022, with our nation now moving onto booster shots - a third dose - those statistics will likely get even better. The sad reality is the majority of deaths occurring nowadays are among those who are unvaccinated. After analysing NSW data, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners pointed out in September that no one under 70 has died having received two doses. 

As infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon told The Australian, "case numbers should not be our focus. We should look at hospitalisations and deaths."

In our two most affected states, there are currently 192 people in hospital, including 26 in intensive care in NSW and in Victoria 384 are in hospital with 122 in ICU. 

We can manage those numbers. 

Mamamia's The Quicky host Claire Murphy assured our worried office yesterday with these wise words: "If anyone is freaking out about the 1700 odd case numbers in Sydney today... you might want to know there was also a MASSIVE 144,000 tests done in the last 24 hours. There are a ton of factors leading to those numbers including people getting tested who otherwise wouldn't due to travel. It's not so bad, just take care of yourself and your mental health."

Everyone is on edge. Christmas is a week away. Everyone's panicked. But just remember, we're still on track. The plans our experts and leaders have put in place remain valid and relevant.

Of course, there's always a risk that state and territory leaders will tighten or backtrack - they've shown us they're not afraid to in the past. But this year is different to last. As a country, we've committed to learning to live with COVID. 

This week the NSW premier changed the definition of 'close contact' to save more people from isolation. 

Queensland changed its mind on a 14-day isolation period for a plane-full of passengers who sat amongst a COVID-positive case. 

So far the leaders of states who've committed to the national plan are altering their rules to make things easier, not more restrictive. 

This is what living with COVID looks like, we're still just getting used to that. 

If you're still feeling anxious, here's some tips from Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno to help as we ride this new phase of 'COVID-normal':

  • Take a digital detox - Our lives are constantly filled with updates about the pandemic and constantly thinking about it can exacerbate any anxious feelings. Try to take digital detoxes every now and then, where you avoid watching the news, reading the news or scrolling through social media. 
  • Practice mindfulness exercises - Ideally these practices will focus on being in the present, or ‘the here and now’, rather than worrying about what could happen in the future.
  • Reframe your thoughts - Remind yourself that your attitude really can determine your perspective, often allowing you to appreciate the little things, even if something hasn’t gone quite right.
  • Talk to someone - Sometimes just knowing that someone else is going through the same emotions can help you feel more connected and feel as though you have someone to rely on. Also consider seeking help from a professional who can arm you with tactics that can help you cope. Support resources like Lifeline and Beyond Blue are services that provide free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts that can help you through any mental health concerns. 

You can keep up to date with Gemma Bath's articles here, or follow her on Instagram, @gembath.

Feature image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi.