A national plan to respond to the effects of long COVID will soon be part of the Federal Government’s pandemic response.
While Mark Butler explained that his focus is on getting Australia through the current winter wave, the health minister also said he is seeking expert advice on how to address the long-term effects of the virus.
The scale of long COVID is not yet known, but estimates show about four per cent of patients experience long-term symptoms, he said.
“The medical literature already reports more than 200 different symptoms being logged, most commonly involving fatigue, shortness of breath and what people are calling ‘brain fog’,” he told parliament on Monday.
“More and more Australians are suffering longer term, multi-system disorders that prove hard to diagnose and treat.”
While states and territories are already operating long COVID clinics to support patients, the minister acknowledged wait lists are already building up.
“It is increasingly clear to me that we will need to develop a focused response nationally to the phenomenon of long COVID,” Butler said.
“I have already started work on the next phase of the Government’s pandemic response … (and) spoken to the chief medical officer to introduce proposals around long COVID in particular.”
Meanwhile, the number of people getting a fourth vaccine dose has tripled from around 180,000 a week to more than 500,000 per week.
More than four million people have had a fourth dose, which is up almost 1.5 million people since eligibility was expanded to people over 30, finance minister Katy Gallagher told parliament on Monday.
The Government will also start providing weekly updates on vaccination rates among aged care homes.
“At the start of June, less than 50 per cent of residents had a fourth COVID-19 dose and vaccination rates have now increased to 78.8 per cent,” she said.
“The Government’s winter plan to boost vaccination rates is already working,” Gallagher said.
There have been more than 77,000 COVID-19 cases in aged care residences since the start of the pandemic and 3394 deaths, compared to a national death toll of almost 12,000.
Australia recorded more than 28,000 cases and 18 deaths on Monday.
There are nearly 4900 people hospitalised with the virus across the nation.