Nearly three-quarters of people who died from COVID-19 had a pre-existing health condition, a Senate committee has said.
Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly told a parliamentary hearing that 71.2% of all COVID deaths up to October last year also had a pre-existing health condition, such as diabetes, lung disease or heart disease.
Professor Kelly said the most recent death figures only increased until the end of October 2021 and did not include deaths after the Omicron outbreak began late last year .
There have been more than 3,900 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, half of them in the last two months alone.
It comes as the audience was told the government did not anticipate such a large demand for PCR tests as COVID infections spiked when the country reopened late last year.
An assistant secretary in the Prime Minister and Cabinet Department said that although planning was undertaken for a rise in cases, states requiring PCR tests for travel purposes were not considered in the process.
“There were so many things happening at the time, we certainly didn’t anticipate that an additional 20% demand for this PCR system would be lined up to test travel specs,” Alison Frame told the committee on Wednesday.
“The PCR test system performed very well with massively increased capacity in the peaks and valleys.”
The deputy secretary said no one in the world had modeled how transmissible the Omicron variant would be, with suspected cases increasing as restrictions eased, remaining manageable within the peak capacity of the PCR system.
“Health officials in every jurisdiction have said PCR testing is what they will continue to rely on because of the increased reliability of these tests,” she said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his government’s delayed purchase of rapid antigen tests, saying no health advice foresees a variant for which vaccines will not work.
Mr Morrison said other countries like the UK already had tests in place as they were processing tens of thousands of cases a day, but Australia remained able to continue using the more accurate PCR tests.
“Rapid antigen tests are not as good as PCR tests. In the Delta phase, PCR tests were the best thing to do,” he told Seven Network.
“Omicron changed all that and no country in the world could avoid Omicron.”
Meanwhile, the medical regulator has issued new guidelines for people using rapid antigen tests.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration said people should not eat, drink, smoke or chew gum for 10 to 30 minutes before collecting saliva for a rapid test due to the risk of an incorrect result.
Deaths continue to climb after what appears to have been Omicron’s peak, with 27 in New South Wales and 25 in Victoria on Wednesday.
There have also been 16 deaths in Queensland and one in South Australia.
The deaths occurred among more than 11,800 and 14,550 new cases in New South Wales and Victoria respectively.
There were also 9,360 new cases in Queensland, 1,723 in South Australia, 666 new infections in Tasmania and 549 in ACT.
Australian Associated Press