Virus deaths spike, children jabs begin

Colin Brinsden |

A total of 20 deaths have been recorded in NSW and Victoria as new COVID-19 cases across the country from the highly-infectious Omicron variant amounted to almost 95,000.

The latest toll came on the eve of the latest stage of the coronavirus vaccine rollout with five to 11-year olds able to get the jab from Monday.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says there will more than enough vaccines available for the 2.3 million children eligible for a jab with three million doses on hand over January.

“We want to encourage all parents to bring their children forward over the period between now and the end of January to protect them and help protect the community,” Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Sunday via video-link.

“I am aware and delighted that some general practices and pharmacies have already begun, they have received their vaccines, they have commenced the program and I think that is great news.”

But Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said parents are anxious because they can’t get appointments for their children.

“That’s a major problem. We need to make sure that is addressed. And this government have had a long time to prepare, making sure that supply was okay,” he told reporters in Ingham, Queensland.

He said this has led to Queensland’s decision to delay the start of the school year by two weeks.

“That will have, of course, a further impact on the workforce and a further impact on the economy,” Mr Albanese said.

The latest vaccine launch came as NSW recorded another 30,062 coronavirus cases and its highest number of deaths since the pandemic began, at 16 fatalities.

Victoria posted a further 44,155 new infections and four deaths.

Elsewhere, Queensland reported 18,000 new cases, Tasmania 1406 and the ACT 1039.

However, while daily infection numbers are staggering compared to the impact of previous variants, Mr Hunt said severe illness has been relatively low.

“We have seen very low rates of significant illness, as demonstrated by the fact that approximately half a million cases over the last month, we have seen the number of people on ventilation go from 54 to 76 since December 15,” Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Sunday via video-link.

“So that is very heartening.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said thankfully most people in Australia aged 12 years and above have been vaccinated with at least two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and this has modified the seriousness of infection for many people.

But he warned with the rising case numbers that have been seen over the past week in many parts of the country, it is likely that many more people will test positive for COVID-19 over coming days and weeks.

“If infected with COVID-19 many of us will have no symptoms at all, some of us will have mild symptoms which can be managed at home, and a very small number of us will require medical care or hospital admission,” he told reporters.

As such, he urged people to be prepared at home with a supply of paracetamol or Ibuprofen and have plenty of fluids at hand should they attract the virus.

“It is important to be prepared because you won’t be able to go to your supermarket or pharmacy if you are diagnosed with COVID-19,” Professor Kidd said.