Victoria recently ticked over the 2 million mark for cases of COVID-19 and is rapidly heading towards recording its 4000th death since the start of the pandemic.
The rolling average of cases is sitting around 7000 new infections every day, and has been above 5000 every day of 2022.
The state is frequently recording days where 20 or more people die with COVID and the rolling average is basically as high as it has ever been.
At the same time, the state government has just removed the last of its restrictions for most of the population, with things like mask requirements only remaining in very high-risk settings.
By most measures the pandemic is as bad as it has ever been in Victoria, but if you looked at the media coverage, or the government health advice, you wouldn't know it.
So how did we get here and where is the pandemic heading?
The Standard spoke to Nobel-Prize winning virologist Professor Peter Doherty and Deakin University chair of epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett to find out.
"It's pretty strange, isn't it," Prof Doherty said.
"None of us thought we'd still be dealing with this almost three years later. I certainly thought we'd be well and truly over it by this point. Everyone got it wrong and underestimated this bloody thing."
Prof Doherty said the Omicron strain of the virus had come at the worst possible time, just as restrictions started easing and the population had lost the collective will to stay home, wear masks and physically distance.
But he said the worst thing about Omicron and the reason it went so far out of control was that it was an "immune escape variant". "These are variants that have changed or mutated specifically to escape the antibodies we have developed to previous versions of the virus," he said.
Prof Doherty said vaccination or infection with earlier strains would provide some protection against serious illness with Omicron, but it didn't stop you actually getting infected. Worse yet, getting Omicron didn't stop you getting it again.
"I'm surprised people keep getting reinfected with different variants of Omicron quite frankly. I thought we'd be building up a much more robust immunity," he said.
"We see the same thing with seasonal influenza which re-emerges every one or two years. But this is moving a lot faster and it really is not what any of us expected at the beginning."
The Doherty Institute is the main lab testing the latest BA.4 and BA.5 variants and Prof Doherty said Omicron was very different to previous versions of the virus.
"All the earlier variants up to delta were all from the same lineage. They were all from that SARS-CoV-2 virus, but they were branching off at different points of mutation, so they were all quite different
"Omicron is a lineage from the Omicron strain, so we've got a family of these Omicron viruses which is really separate from the previous variants. One prominent virologist is even saying we should call this SARS-CoV-3."
Prof Doherty said Omicron had become so dominant that experts were wondering whether there was enough of the original virus in the world for any new variants to emerge.
"We are all hoping that Omicron will get to a point where it can no longer change effectively to escape from immune control and that will bring it to an end," he said.
He thought it was "perfectly understandable" that many people had given up taking any precautions because the virus had run wild, but said it would be much smarter for people to take some simple measures to avoid infection. "Personally I think it would make a lot of sense if people still wore masks indoors and in crowded places."
Prof Bennett agreed, saying the risk of multiple infections with Omicron should be a red flag.
"When you have a lot of infection in a community you hear people saying 'what's the point of protecting myself because I'm just delaying the inevitable?' But the big difference now is you can have reinfection," she said.
"You're not delaying your infection by being careful, you are reducing the number of infections you have. Having one mild infection doesn't mean the next one will be mild."
Prof Bennett said the latest research on the BA.5 variant showed it going deeper into people's lung tissue, raising the risk of pneumonia and serious lung damage. She also said a new study seemed to show an increased risk of long COVID in people who have had multiple infections.
Prof Doherty said long COVID was still very poorly understood, but there were two main groups of people getting it.
"If you get very sick with the disease and especially if the virus is roaring through and doing a lot of damage, you're going to have lingering effects from that," he said.
"But there's also a separate group of mostly younger people who develop a mild infection and then are stuck with long COVID. And among young people you can't really pick who is going to develop it."
He said there was increasing evidence that in people who got long COVID after mild cases there was a reservoir of virus remaining in the body and continuing to attack different areas for months or years.
Prof Bennett said the risk of long COVID was one of the reasons she recommended continuing to wear masks indoors or in crowded places, even if it wasn't a government requirement. She said it was frustrating to see people pointing to case numbers and deaths and suggesting it was proof the vaccines didn't work.
"We knew when Omicron came along it was a vaccine escape variant, so the first two doses wouldn't stop you getting infected. People pointed to that saying 'see the vaccines don't work', and I had to say 'no, they did work on the previous variants and even if they don't stop infection with this variant they still protect against serious illness'."
But Prof Bennett said the booster dose did provide some protection against Omicron, and said anyone who hadn't had their third dose - or fourth dose if they were eligible - should get it as soon as possible.
"The booster halves your chance of infection for the first two months. So for people who haven't had it, going into winter, now is the time to have it," she said.
Prof Bennett also said anyone who suspected they were infected should get tested as soon as possible, in case they were eligible for anti viral medications. "They halve the risk of ending up in hospital, but only work if they're administered in the first five days."
Prof Doherty said a new Omicron-specific vaccine from Moderna was in final trials, which was promising, but he wasn't going to guess what the future held.
"I don't think anyone's trying to predict where we'll be in a few months time. I think they're all saying we don't bloody well know."
Reporter covering politics, environment and health
Reporter covering politics, environment and health
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