COVID-19 hospitalization rates in New South Wales (NSW) could plateau next week, a top health official said yesterday, as Australia’s most populous state suffered record deaths from the virus for a third day.
The country is experiencing its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic, with more than 100,000 cases being posted daily, fueled by the now dominant Omicron strain of SARS-CoV-2, which makes up about 90 percent of cases and two-thirds of ICU admissions in New South Wales.
Pressure on hospitals are likely to remain for “the next few weeks,” New South Wales Deputy Secretary of Health Susan Pearce said, although hospitalization numbers were tracking better than the best-case scenario in an official modeling a week ago.
“That is pleasing, but that plateauing is obviously still at a relatively high level of COVID patients in our hospitals and in our” intensive care, Pearce told a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital.
The surge in cases fueled by the Omicron variant has piled pressure on hospitals, which are grappling with record admissions, and on other sectors of the economy.
With staff shortages beginning to disrupt supply chains, authorities have eased quarantine rules to allow thousands of close contacts of cases to return to work in the transport and freight industries if they are asymptomatic, an extension of exemptions that had earlier applied to food production staff.
However, this has raised fears workers would be placed in riskier environments.
“Essential workers are being forced to put themselves in harm’s way to keep food on the shelves, medicines in stock, the lights and water on and keep this country open for business,” Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus said in a statement.
Australia successfully restricted outbreaks of COVID-19 for most of the pandemic, but it now finds itself in the grip of a wave driven by the Omicron variant following the relaxation of restrictions when vaccinations became widespread.
Of Australia’s nearly 1.4 million infections recorded since the pandemic began, about 1.2 million have been detected over the past four weeks.
New South Wales yesterday reported a total of 63,018 new COVID-19 cases, although 37,938 of those came from home rapid antigen tests, an unspecified number of which had been taken in the previous week and reported later.
The addition of the home tests to official case numbers by state governments has distorted the count in recent days.
In Victoria, the second-most populous state, the government is more cautious about the outlook, despite new cases remaining stable in recent days.
The state yesterday recorded 34,836 new infections, 15,440 of which were from home rapid antigen tests.
“I don’t have advice yet that we’ve reached the peak of the wave of this omicron variant, and it is something we’re looking at daily, hourly in terms of the impact on our hospital system,” Victoria Acting Minister of Health James Merlino said.
Australia reported 56 deaths by mid-day yesterday, with 29 of them in New South Wales, its biggest ever COVID-19 toll.
Other parts of Australia, largely virus-free until early last month, are also hitting record caseloads. A month ago, Queensland reported a day with four new cases; yesterday, it recorded 23,630, a state record.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg
SECRET AGREEMENT: China is paying for construction at Ream Naval Base, where dredging would be needed if larger military ships were to dock there, AMTI said Dredgers have been spotted off Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base, where China is funding construction work and deeper port facilities would be necessary for the docking of larger military ships, a US think tank said on Friday. The US, which has sought to push back against Beijing’s extensive territorial claims and military expansion in the South China Sea, reiterated its “serious concerns” about China’s construction and military presence at Ream. “These developments threaten US and partner interests, regional security and Cambodia’s sovereignty,” a US Department of State spokesperson said. The report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank said the
France is to relax some COVID-19 restrictions from early next month in a bet that an outbreak of the Omicron variant of SARS-COV-2 would recede thanks to faster inoculations and plans to shut the unvaccinated out of most social activities. The French government is to lift the obligation to work from home at least three days a week from Feb. 2, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday. It would also remove a requirement to wear a mask outdoors, and scrap attendance limits for sports arenas and cultural venues, Castex said. Infections with the Delta variant are “clearly receding,” while the
‘PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE’: Authorities asked anyone who bought a hamster after Dec. 22 to hand it over after hamsters at a shop tested positive for the Delta variant Hong Kong’s government yesterday faced outrage over its decision to cull hundreds of small animals after hamsters in a store tested positive for COVID-19. Like China, Hong Kong maintains a staunch “zero COVID” policy, stamping out the merest trace of the virus with contact tracing, mass testing, strict quarantines and prolonged social distancing rules. Its latest measures target hamsters and other small mammals — including chinchillas, rabbits and guinea pigs, which authorities on Tuesday said would be culled as a “precautionary measure.” The drastic move came after hamsters sold at the Little Boss pet shop tested positive for the Delta variant of
RED LINE: The US and its allies would not accept if ‘any’ Russian troops cross into Ukraine, the state secretary said, clarifying Biden’s remarks about a ‘minor incursion’ The US and its allies on Thursday warned Moscow of grave consequences if “any” of the tens of thousands of troops massed on the border were to cross into Ukraine. Following talks in Berlin with Germany, France and the UK, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Russia “cannot match” Western powers’ resoluteness. Allowing Russia to breach Ukraine’s territorial integrity would “drag us all back to a much more dangerous and unstable time, when this continent, and this city, were divided in two ... with the threat of all-out war hanging over everyone’s heads,” he told reporters. In a show of that