Another deadly day as NSW provides support

Colin Brinsden |

It was another dark day for virus-related deaths across Australia, particularly in NSW which saw its worst yet with a record 52 fatalities.

There were also 20 new deaths in Victoria on Sunday, 13 in Queensland and one in Tasmania.

More than 3700 Australian lives have been lost since the pandemic began, over a thousand of them this month.

NSW responded to the economic damage caused to its state by the highly-infectious outbreak of the Omicron variant, announcing a $1 billion support package for small business if they have suffered a 40 per cent downturn over the summer period.

But there was a no-show from the Morrison government to assist with the program, much to the disappointment of NSW Treasurer Matt Kean, who had hoped to be making the announcement with the prime minister and his federal counterpart by his side.

“But they’re not to be found,” Mr Kean told reporters in Sydney.

“What we want to see is rather than the commonwealth government stepping aside, we want to see the commonwealth government stepping in.”

But Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said his government had already laid out billions of dollars in the form of JobKeeper, JobSeeker, airline industry stimulus and other measures during the pandemic.

“It goes on and on and on,” Mr Joyce told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program.

“So I don’t think it is penny pinching. You can’t just keep putting things on the credit card over and over and over again.”

He said the more money paid out on tackling the Omicron variant and other COVID-19 programs, the less for the NDIS, defence, education and health.

But Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he was pleased to see the Perrottet government “stepping into the void of national leadership”.

Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox also applauded the support package, saying it will provide welcome relief to businesses suffering from the self-imposed lockdown by many in the community.

“Payroll relief and the range of other measures will help businesses get back on their feet after a subdued summer where consumer confidence and demand have been suppressed,” he said in a statement.

Mr Joyce also stood by comments he made last week that one of the reasons for the lack of rapid antigen tests is that people are hoarding them.

“It is just a matter of fact,” he said.

“If you deny that RAT tests are being hoarded … I would have to lie. People are (hoarding them).”

Mr Albanese said rapid antigen tests should be available on the basis of need for everyone through the Medicare system.

There would have to be a limit, as there is through the government’s program that provides the tests for concession card holders.

“That’s the way you can control supply. It is not rocket science here,” he said.

But Health Minister Greg Hunt claimed Mr Albanese’s “vague, sound good pledge” is simply endorsing the government’s program.

He said the government in the first five days of its program has delivered two million RATs, through 2600 pharmacies and to 467,000 concession card holders.

“Albanese’s first policy of universal uncapped free RATS for all would have destroyed the supply chain,” Mr Hunt said in a joint statement with Industry Minister Angus Taylor.

“It would have diverted tests from the ill, aged care, hospitals, people with a disability and Indigenous Australians. It was hopelessly flawed, unrealistic and un-costed.”

Aside from the rising death toll, NSW recorded a further 13,524 COVID-19 cases in NSW, while there were 10,589 new infections in Victoria.

In Queensland there were 8580 cases, while there were 584 new infections in the ACT and 20 in Western Australia.