Australians are being urged to work from home where possible, wear masks in crowded areas and get the booster doses they are eligible for amid soaring COVID-19 cases.
In the past week, more than 300,000 cases have been recorded in Australia, but Health Minister Mark Butler believes the true number to be much higher.
With more than 5000 Australians hospitalised with COVID across the country and health care staff grappling with increasing flu patients, Mr Butler says the latest virus wave is proving to be significant.
But while more than half a million Australians have had a fourth vaccine dose since eligibility was expanded last week, rates for the third booster are lagging.
“The third dose rate just isn’t shifting fast enough,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.
“There are still more than five million Australians for whom there’s at least six months since they had their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine but have not yet had a third dose.”
The highly infectious and immunity-evading variants of the Omicron strain, BA.4 and BA.5, pose a significant new threat, chief medical officer Paul Kelly said.
Working from home where possible and wearing a mask in crowded places were some of the recommendations from Prof Kelly.
“We know that wearing masks does reduce the spread, protects yourself and protects others,” Professor Paul Kelly said.
“If you’re away from home and indoors in a crowded place I really very strongly suggest that you do wear masks.”
Prof Kelly said wearing a mask would help curb case numbers, protect people and reduce the strain on hospitals.
Health forecasting predicts case numbers will continue to rise over coming months, Prof Kelly said.
“We cannot stop this wave of infections, but we can slow the spread and protect the vulnerable,” he said.
“We have done this before and we can do it again.”
Australia recorded more than 50,000 COVID-19 cases and 75 deaths on Tuesday.