Omicron Cases Surge in New South Wales Amid Calls for Curbs
(Bloomberg) -- Australia’s largest state reported a record 2,566 cases Sunday, amid reports that health experts and some members of the government are supporting the reintroduction of mask mandates as the omicron variant spreads.
Testing confirmed that 313 of the cases involved the omicron strain, though state health officials said the majority of infections there are likely to be of that variant. As the numbers surge, the health department said it will only undertake genomic sequencing for the omicron variant in circumstances where it will make a clinical difference to the care of a patient.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet is under internal government pressure to reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing for indoor settings and QR code check-ins, the Sydney Morning Herald reported late Saturday, citing ministers in his cabinet. Just days earlier, measures were relaxed across the state of more than 8 million people.
Perrottet told reporters Sunday that the government strongly encourages mask wearing, but isn’t reimposing curbs or mandates for the facial covering. He said the state has “always struck the right balance” and is “in a very strong place.”
There were 227 people hospitalized with Covid-19 in New South Wales, 28 were in intensive care and no additional deaths were reported.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said it’s unlikely Australia will be forced to re-enter strict lockdowns as seen in the Netherlands.
“We don’t see that’s a likely situation in Australia,” he said at a press conference.
Federal government health officials urged the community to get booster shots and to wear masks saying the current rate of transmission is concerning. The vaccination rate for New South Wales is almost 95% for those aged 16 and over.
“If we see high numbers, that sheer number of cases is a cause for concern,” deputy chief medical officer Sonya Bennett said Sunday. “My plea to the community is we don’t need to wait for mandates to tell us what is sensible to do. That particularly applies to masks.”
Meanwhile, the omicron strain is likely to become dominant in Queensland state within days, said John Gerrard, the state’s chief health officer, at a press conference Sunday. The spread of the new variant “is happening very rapidly, again, even more rapidly than we originally predicted,” Gerrard added. The state reported 34 new local Covid cases Sunday.
The neighboring state of Victoria reported 1,240 new infections and four deaths on Saturday. Some 392 people were hospitalized, with 81 in intensive care. The island state of Tasmania said it would reintroduce its indoor mask mandate from midnight Monday, after detecting hree new infections.
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