A low burden of severe illness: the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak in the remote Torres and Cape region of Far North Queensland, Australia
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Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, Nil, L3/120 Bunda street, Carins 4870, Queensland, Australia
Cairns Hinterland Hospital Service, Australia
Publication date: 2023-04-26
Popul. Med. 2023;5(Supplement):A407
The arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant reignited concerns that outbreaks of COVID-19 could have devastating consequences for First Nations Australians living in remote areas. The Far North Queensland region of Australia is home to 19,500 First Nations people (68.8% of population). To prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak, Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service TCHHS in partnership with local First Nations councils undertook extensive outbreak preparation including the establishment of a COVID-19 public health team and the delivery of a logistically complex outreach vaccination service. The first outbreak was declared in December 2021. Here we report local outbreak epidemiology for the first ten-month outbreak period from December 2021 to October 2022. Outreach vaccination and walk-in fever clinics were established at 28 health facilities with 12 utilising point-of-care PCR machines. The public health team contacted cases by telephone throughout the period to undertake health screening; offer medical certificates; provide information about case isolation and close contact quarantine requirements; triage cases for treatment eligibility; and offer participation in the COVID-19 care-in-the-home program which provided wellbeing support telephone calls throughout mandatory isolation. COVID-19 vaccination rates among those aged ≥12 years climbed from 43.4% to 79.3% (single dose) and from 22.2% to 67.6% (double dose) between early September and late December 2021. A total of 7784 cases were notified, with 65.5% of cases among First Nations people. The attack rate was 25.6% (95%CI 25.1%-26.1%), the hospitalisation rate was 1.6% (95%CI 1.3%-1.9%) and the crude case fatality rate was 0.05% (95%CI 0.01%-0.13%). Genomic results were available for 213 specimens, with all (100%) identified as the Omicron variant. We attribute the excellent outcomes to the mild Omicron variant and vaccination coverage along with local community leadership, strong partnerships, community engagement in testing and isolation, and community participation in the culturally considered COVID-19 care-in-the-home program.
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