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COVID hits Hunter – again, as new variant JN.1 arrives

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Facemasks have returned to the John Hunter Hospital as COVID hits the region in what health authorities are calling “a rising tide”. 

And, as large numbers of people present at the city’s main emergency department, a new strain of the virus is rearing its ugly head. 

JN.1 has been detected in and around Newcastle, prompting fresh warnings to be prepared for another wave of coronavirus. 

“It’s like a rising tide at the moment,” says Dr Peter Murray from Hunter New England Public Health Unit. 

“We’re seeing a surge in numbers presenting at emergency departments with COVID in the past few weeks. 

“We’re experiencing wave on wave of the virus, coupled with the new JN.1 variant and festive period gatherings.” 

The “wave”, Dr Murray says, is being driven by three factors: The emergence of new omicron variants (Eris (EG.5) and Pirola (BA.2.86)), Waning immunity from previous infections or vaccinations, and the festive period bringing increased rates of transmission. 

HNELHD

What is JN.1 like? 

“JN.1 causes respiratory tract infection,” explains Dr Murray. 

“The symptoms are what we’re used to seeing with COVID, such as a runny nose, sore throat and cough.

“The concern is that this variant is particularly adept at getting around the immune system. 

“Viruses are constantly evolving, that’s what they do, and this one is no different.

“Thankfully, it is not more severe, but it is just as infectious.” 

How do we know the virus is in the Hunter? 

“There’s a suite of indicators that we look at,” says Dr Murray, “Including higher numbers presenting at ED, more people being hospitalised with COVID, outbreaks at aged care, lab data indications, flu tracking systems and our sewage surveillance has been revealing traces.” 

Who is most at risk? 

“We’re not identifying any hotspots as such, we’re seeing cases across the board, as we’ve learned over the past few years COVID Impacts everyone. 

“We are seeing more older Australians presenting at emergency departments, as well as those with waning immunity.” 

“Our advice to people who are at risk of severe disease, with a high priority being those aged over 75 years is: 

  • Stay up to date with your recommended booster. 
  • Wear a mask. 
  • Have a plan with your GP for testing and antivirals if you develop COVID. 
  • A New XBB.1.5 booster, better matching circulating variants, is now available. 

And for the rest of the community:

“If you have any symptoms stay at home, don’t visit anyone considered high risk and test if you have any symptoms.”

“If you’re attending gatherings make them outdoors or well-ventilated.”

“Stay up to date with your vaccinations.”

“If you can’t social distance, wear a mask.”

Where can I get a COVID vaccination?

Contact your GP or go to www.healthdirect.gov.au

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