Staying safe amid summer wave of COVID cases

Article published 19 January 2024

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COVID-safe behaviours remain essential, as new wave of cases reminds us.

COVID-19 case numbers unsurprisingly don’t demand the same attention as they did a few years ago, but a wave of cases driven by two new subvariants of the virus should come as a reminder that Covid-safe behaviours remain as important as ever.

If you do get infected, you may be eligible to be prescribed antiviral medication by a doctor if you are:

  • 70 years of age or older,
  • 50-69 years of age with 1 additional risk factor for severe illness,
  • An Indigenous person, 30 years of age or older and with 1 additional risk factor for severe illness, or
  • 18 years of age or older and are immunocompromised.

Antivirals are most effective when taken within 5 days of infection and you need a positive PCR or rapid antigen test (RAT) to get a prescription. So if you have symptoms or think you might have been infected, get tested as soon as possible and speak to your doctor if you test positive.

NSW Health has recently released its latest fortnightly Respiratory Surveillance Report, showing that case numbers in the current wave are the highest they’ve been since December 2022. While the currently circulating subvariants appear to cause no more severe disease than previous variants, this is no reason for complacency.


After 4 years of dealing with COVID, it can sometimes feel like the disease is a known quantity. However, the potential long-term side-effects of infection – what has come to be known as ‘long COVID’ – are still something of a mystery. Long COVID refers to the presence or emergence of a range of COVID-19 symptoms either 4 or 12 weeks after the initial infection (depending on which definition you choose).

According to the Department of Health and Aged Care, commonly reported symptoms can include breathlessness, dizziness, general pain, loss of taste and/or smell and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, among other things.

The currently circulating subvariants seem less likely to cause long COVID than the Alpha or Delta variants, but higher numbers of infections could still lead to more long COVID cases overall.

Who is at risk?

Last year, the Australian Government released a report which found that long COVID affected 2-20% of people infected by COVID-19. Another Australian study released in September 2023 found that 10% of people surveyed had developed long COVID symptoms.

As with so many things though, these risks were not borne equally across the population. The September study found that older people, women and people with pre-existing conditions were all overrepresented among long-COVID sufferers.

Staying safe

So, what can you do to reduce your risk? Well, prevention is the first step.

  • Wear a mask, especially in densely populated areas like supermarkets or public transport,
  • Encourage friends, family members and community members to mask up too. A study of attitudes towards masks in Australia found that 18% of respondents were more likely to wear a mask if recommended to do so by a family or friend,
  • If possible, avoid high risk settings like hospitals,
  • Wash your hands regularly, and
  • Socially distance where possible.

If you have symptoms or suspect you might be infected then,

  • Avoid high risk settings like hospitals, aged care or disability care facilities where possible,
  • Avoid people who are at higher risk of severe illnesses until your symptoms subside, and
  • If possible, stay at home until your symptoms subside. If you must go out, be sure to wear a mask and socially distance to protect others.

Finally, make sure you are up to date with your recommended vaccinations.

  • Booster advice can be found here, and updated advice is due to be released soon.

To get specific advice and information about vaccines and boosters, check in with your doctor or pharmacist.

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