Restrictions return after Omicron surge

Andrew Brown |

Multiple jurisdictions have reintroduced pandemic restrictions, as experts warn it could still be several weeks until the peak of the Omicron wave.

Australia recorded another one-day high for daily infections, with state and territory leaders seeking to curb the spread of rising case numbers linked to the variant.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet moved to suspend elective surgery in a bid to ease pressure on hospitals, while singing and dancing will be banned in hospitality venues.

Major events will be able to go ahead, but health officials will re-examine COVID safety plans in place and advise organisers if changes have to be made.

Health officials have said Omicron cases could peak in the state by the end of January.

Queensland has indicated it could follow suit on suspending elective surgery, as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urged people to work from home if possible.

She also flagged the start to the school year could be postponed due to the rise in cases.

Victoria has already reintroduced density limits in hospitality venues, and the Northern Territory has introduced a territory-wide lockout for the unvaccinated.

States are also moving to record positive rapid antigen test results as part of daily case numbers, alongside PCR tests.

Victoria and now Tasmania have moved to a system where people who test positive on a rapid test can inform state health authorities.

Queensland is establishing a hotline to record positive rapid tests and NSW is also working to have a similar system in place.

The rise in cases has led to a boost in demand for rapid tests, which has caused widespread shortages and reports of price gouging at some retailers.

Large queues have been seen at PCR testing clinics across the country following the rapid test shortage.

It comes as daily cases across the country have more than doubled in just the past week.

There were 38,625 new cases and 11 deaths in NSW, while there were 21,728 infections and six fatalities in Victoria.

Queensland had 10,953, while South Australia and Tasmania registered 3707 and 1489 cases respectively.

The ACT had 1246 cases, the first time the territory had daily case numbers above 1000, with the Northern Territory having 412 and Western Australia recording six among travellers.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said health systems across the country had been struggling with the explosion of cases.

“The reality is our hospitals are under extraordinary pressure, and those long-suffering staff who have had a very difficult couple of years … they’re facing huge demand at the front door of the ED,” Dr Khorshid told the Ten Network.

“It’s just not true to say our health system is so resilient it can cope with anything. There are limits, unfortunately.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 200 rapid antigen tests would be available in coming weeks but ruled out making them universally free. 

The government will instead provide 10 tests over a three-month period to more than six million concession cardholders.

There was another record day for booster doses, with 232,586 administered on Thursday.

The latest vaccination figures have shown almost 3.2 million people 16 and over in the county have received a third COVID vaccine dose.

The time frame between doses was shortened earlier this week from five to four months between the second and third dose.

That will shorten again to three months by the end of January.