More nursing home residents die of COVID-19 than ever before

Article published 21 September 2022

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LAST Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) noted that the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide the week before had been the lowest reported since March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started. The WHO said the end of the pandemic was in sight.

As if on cue, most states abolished the requirement for passengers to wear masks on public transport, including trains, buses, taxis and rideshare services, and in transport waiting areas.

But what the WHO also said was that countries should not act as though the pandemic was over. Specifically, the WHO urged all countries to vaccinate all most-at-risk groups, including older people. Vaccine coverage overall should be 70 per cent.

Australia’s population-wide vaccine coverage is 85 per cent. Globally, coverage is 63 per cent.

Australia-wide, masks remain mandatory in hospitals and nursing homes and for good reason.

A total of well over 3,000 nursing home residents have died of COVID-19 since beginning of pandemic, but the majority of those deaths occurred this year, from January to September 2022: just over 2,200. In 2020, the first year of the pandemic, 686 nursing home residents died of COVID-19, and 231 died in 2021, the time of lock-downs and strict isolation protocols.

While the wider community can afford to relax, it is clear that older people with underlying conditions must continue to be very careful, whether they are nursing home residents or not. By being careful we mean keeping their vaccinations up to date, social distancing and wearing a mask.

Fortunately, for those still at risk of severe illness as a result of a COVID-19 infection despite vaccines and boosters, good access to early treatment with antiviral drugs makes a big difference, but here prevention is better than a cure.

The consensus among medical professionals specialising in communicable diseases is that the COVID-19 vaccines and the anti-viral medications for those infected are doing their job.

For the vast majority of people, there is no longer a need to fear a COVID-19 infection, provided they have been vaccinated. COVID-19 is now comparable with influenza as a health risk.

But as the nursing home COVID-19 stats show, COVID-19 is not harmless.

COVID-19 lock-downs are now a thing of the past. So are travel bans, which left tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas, and which prevented citizens from other countries from returning to their homes and lives.

Life for the wider community is returning to normal, and this is something for the wider community to be thankful for.


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