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New South Wales has overtaken Victoria as the state that has recorded the most locally acquired COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic last year.
On Friday, NSW marked 22,157 confirmed local cases since the start of the pandemic, surpassing Victoria’s tally of 21,772 confirmed local cases.
This graph compares each state’s running total for case numbers since the first COVID-19 case was confirmed on Australian soil in January last year. It does not tally cases acquired overseas including in hotel quarantine.
New South Wales recorded 882 new cases on Friday, while Victoria recorded 79 new infections.
Adrian Esterman, professor of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, cautioned against directly comparing the progression in states’ epidemics, calling them “chalk and cheese” because the more recent infections were of the COVID-19 Delta-variant.
“It’s a different variant. It’s much more transmissible this time around”.
Delta is substantially more infectious than earlier variants of the virus. The Delta variant is about 60 per cent more infectious than the Alpha variant of the virus, which in turn was about 50 per cent more contagious than the strain of the virus that emerged in Wuhan.
On Thursday, New South Wales overtook Victoria on another measure: the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 on a given day.
During Victoria’s coronavirus second wave last year, there was a peak of 675 people hospitalised because of the virus on August 19.
On Thursday, there were 698 people in hospital because of COVID-19 in NSW, which rose to 767 on Friday.
NSW’s current outbreak is also leaving a higher proportion of those infected in intensive care than during Victoria’s second wave. During Victoria’s second wave, the number of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19 patients peaked at 48.
There have been more than 48 coronavirus patients in intensive care units in NSW every day since July 28. On Friday there were 117 people in ICU care in NSW.
This data was something of a surprise, said Professor Esterman, given a significant proportion of people in NSW were vaccinated – while Victoria’s outbreak happened in an unvaccinated population.
Victorian authorities are urging anyone with symptoms to get tested. Credit:Wayne Taylor
“It could simply be they are being more cautious. I would expect, for the current NSW outbreak, for there to be a lower percentage hospitalised and in intensive care because it’s a lower proportion of the elderly being infected,” he said.
As case numbers and hospitalisation numbers have risen, so too have deaths of people with COVID-19 in NSW. On Friday, the state recorded two new deaths, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 137. This is a fraction of the 820 deaths of people with the virus confirmed in Victoria since the start of the pandemic.
Another important difference here between NSW’s current outbreak and Victoria’s second wave is the age breakdown of those infected.
In Victoria’s second wave, a disproportionate number of people aged 70 and above contracted the virus, largely due to outbreaks in aged care facilities.
People aged 70 and above make up about 11 per cent of the state’s population, but almost 14 per cent of cases recorded during Victoria’s second wave and more than 90 per cent of the state’s total deaths from the virus.
But in NSW’s latest outbreak, 4 per cent of those infected have been aged 70 or above and 61 per cent of people in this age group are fully vaccinated against COVID statewide.
This was a strong signal the vaccine programs – which have prioritised the elderly as they are at much higher risk of dying – were working, said Professor Esterman.
“The vaccines are definitely working as they should. But again, it’s difficult to compare Victoria and NSW in terms of compliance and the ways people behave. They are different cities with different characteristics – and very much different politics,” he said.
The age of those infected in NSW’s latest outbreak skews younger than Victoria’s second wave. Three out of every 10 cases recorded in the state since June 29 have been in people under the age of 20.
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