Ballarat recorded the highest ratio of active COVID-19 cases in Victoria on Wednesday, with almost one in 50 people infected with the deadly virus, according to new health department data. A newly reported 423 cases is among the city's highest daily tallies and continues an upward case trend with easing restrictions.
This comes as new data shows the most disadvantaged people in Australian communities are dying from COVID-19 at more than three times the rate of the affluent.
Leading epidemiologist Nancy Baxter warned the simple act of choosing not to wear masks indoors went beyond personal risk and responsibility, this was choosing to increase COVID-19 risks for others, including our most vulnerable.
The University of Melbourne's public health school lead said pandemic inequity was not unique to Ballarat but people could look after each other better.
Personal responsibility is important, but what you do affects my chances of getting COVID and vice-versa...If we don't care about community than this virus will take hold.- Professor Nancy Baxter
"I spoke on a radio show earlier this week and one caller emphasised people dying with COVID are generally older, inferring only older people should wear masks. I understand the frustration the pandemic affecting lives has been for a long time, and personal responsibility is important, but what you do affects my chances of getting COVID and vice-versa," Professor Baxter said.
"...If we don't care about community than this virus will take hold."
This comes as Grampians Health Ballarat acute operations director Ben Kelly backed the Australian Medical Association's call for people to voluntarily wear masks in high-risk settings to prevent COVID-19 and influenza community spread.
Professor Baxter said pandemic impacts had been felt by everyone around the world. But these impacts had not been felt equally and the numbers of people contracting and dying of COVID-19 were usually felt most in lower-socioeconomic groups due to compounding factors.
The proportions of Australian men and women dying from COVID-19 was relatively equal across all socioeconomic groups, the ABS found. The lowest proportions of COVID-19 deaths among the nation's most affluent people was about 10 percent, compared to about 35 per cent for the most disadvantaged.
Exact death numbers for Ballarat remain unconfirmed due to the complexities and delays in reporting.
"Often [lower socioeconomic] people have no option but to go to work, so they're often more exposed to others and there's usually not good sick leave either so if they're not at work they don't get paid," Professor Baxter said.
"This means, they are more likely to get COVID and if they have COVID symptoms, they are less likely to get tested.
"There are a lot more risk factors in disadvantaged groups. If you think of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, there are a lot of co-morbidities. This is a discrimination of multiple factors in which you are more likely to get sick and die of COVID in a pandemic felt by everyone."
Professor Baxter reiterated the importance of everyone getting COVID-19 boosters or winter shots to reduce the risk of serious illness and disease, to reduce the strain on the healthcre system and to have less chance of dying with COVID-19.
She also said everyone should be aware if they were eligible to have COVID-19 treatments, which could also help save lives of the community's most vulnerable people.
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