NSW took 731 days to officially reach 1 million cases of COVID-19.
To go from there to 2 million, it only took 75.
The unofficial number might have hit that milestone even earlier.
NSW Health yesterday recorded 15,683 new cases of COVID, bringing the state’s tally to more than 2 million since the start of the pandemic.
This painting tells the story.
This is an official figure, but the actual number of cases is likely much higher.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Wednesday – shortly before contracting the virus – that cases were estimated to be underreported by around 50% due to people not showing symptoms or did not report mild cases.
According to this logic, the milestone of 2 million would have been reached about three weeks ago.
John Kaldor, head of global health at the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW, said the 50% underreporting was likely at the low end of plausible estimates.
This equates to up to a third of NSW’s population having had COVID, assuming the rate of reinfection – otherwise known as people who have had the virus twice – is very low.
A spokesperson for NSW Health said the state’s reinfection rate was not known.
The rate at which NSW rose from 1 million infections to 2 million was driven by the Omicron variant and the easing of social distancing restrictions.
Data from NSW Health showed that while the Delta variant accounted for 43% of cases between November and February, the Omicron variant then took over and it now accounted for 100% of cases.
NSW health and government officials have consistently urged people to focus on COVID-19 hospital data, as opposed to case numbers, as the state comes to life with the virus.
But Professor Kaldor said knowing the number of cases was important because it helped authorities plan.
“We will need to know if there will be an increase in demand for hospital and intensive care services,” he said.
He said the number of cases was also important in designing the next stage of the vaccine strategy, including the demographics that would be asked to receive a fourth shot next.
There have been more than 2,500 deaths from COVID-19 in New South Wales since the start of the pandemic.
NSW Health data shows that around 1% of people who caught the early variants, or the Delta variant, died.
The death rate has been much lower, around 0.1% of cases, since late November when the Omicron variant emerged.
Similarly, hospitalization rates with Omicron have been lower, about 1% of cases, compared to 10% of cases during the Delta outbreak.
Prof Kaldor said Australians now see the pandemic as “part of normal life”, but that did not mean it was over.
“What COVID has shown us over the past two-plus years is its ability to change,” he said.
“The virus changes and its characteristics change, and then the response has to change.
“While we can hope it will continue to subside, it may progress to a form that is either more severe, in terms of the disease it causes, or more apt to evade vaccine protection.”
He said there was no evidence to suggest a variant causing more severe disease, whether in vaccinated or unvaccinated people, had evolved, but the potential was still there.
While Australia kept the number of cases low in the first two years of the pandemic, other countries hit the milestone of one million cases much faster.
The United States took just three months to reach 1 million cases.
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