Scenario of 200,000 Omicron cases a day not likely: chief medical officer

By Jackson Graham

December 22, 2021

Paul Kelly
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, says modelling showing the Omicron variant leading to 200,000 cases a day is “misleading” if presented as a likely scenario. 

The Doherty Institute modelling, which predicts a worst-case scenario of Omicron spreading in January and February, was prepared for state and territory leaders ahead of a national cabinet meeting on Wednesday. 

Kelly said the modelling requires the variant to be as severe as Delta, hospitals to lack surge capacity, the vaccine booster program to be limited, and no change in public health measures or a change in public behaviour. 

“None of these five assumptions represents the likely state of events, let alone all of them together,” he said in a statement on Tuesday night. 

“Therefore presenting that scenario as the likely scenario that will occur is highly misleading.” 

Kelly said evidence suggested the variant was more transmissible, but early indications around hospitalisation, ICU admission and death showed Omicron “could be far less than Delta and other variants”. 

“After almost four weeks of Omicron in Australia, there are currently no confirmed Omicron cases in ICU and no deaths confirmed to date,” he said. 

The ACT has reintroduced an indoor mask mandate from Wednesday, including in workplaces. 

State leaders have flagged a push for earlier booster shots, and for only people who’ve had three doses of vaccine to be classified as “fully vaccinated” ahead of the national cabinet meeting. 

The federal government followed its vaccination advisory group’s advice earlier this month to bring forward booster doses from six months to five months, and Kelly said the government would follow the medical advice on any change to that interval again. 

“There are two key take-home messages for policymakers. The first, a collaborative effort is required to get as many third boosters doses into arms in the coming month as possible,” he said. 

“The second is that public health and social measures, adapted to local epidemiology, will also have an important effect on slowing the spread of Omicron, as it has done with previous variants.” 


Kelly says COVID here to stay, encourages optimism

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