On Thursday, Australia reinstated COVID-19 curbs to encompass the majority of the population, including mandatory mask wearing indoors, capacity limits, and QR code check-ins, as daily infections hit a new high, fueled by the extremely infectious Omicron variant.
The reversal of the country’s plans for a permanent reopening after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns as the new variant rages through the community despite double-vaccination rates of more than 90% marks a reversal of the country’s plans for a permanent reopening after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns as the new variant rages through the community despite double-vaccination rates of more than 90%.
The number of hospitalizations and deaths remained modest, but the rapid spread of illnesses put healthcare professionals at risk of being fired if they tested positive, according to the authorities.
From a previous high of 5,600 cases a day earlier, the country saw an increase of more than 8,200 new cases, the largest daily increase since the epidemic began, particularly in the states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria.
NSW, which includes Sydney and a third of Australia’s 25 million people, announced that masks will once again be required to be worn indoors in public areas, and that venues would be instructed to limit visits and re-activate customer check-in via QR code.
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters, “Today’s amendments are modest, conservative, and take a preventative approach as we move through this holiday period to the end of January.”
Until Thursday, Perrottet had encouraged the state to stick to a strategy that had been agreed upon by state and federal authorities to lift limitations once the vaccination rate reached a certain threshold.
Perrottet had resolutely refused to reinstate mandatory indoor mask use, despite calls from doctors and health workers in the country, claiming it was now time to live with COVID-19.
Victoria, which has a similar population, reintroduced a mask mandate, citing the need to relieve strain on the health system.
After a French traveller tested positive, suspected with the Delta form, Western Australia, which has had relatively few cases and is virtually blocked off from the rest of the country, ordered the closure of nightclubs and big public gatherings, a restriction on dancing, and mandatory mask wearing in Perth city. The individual has frequented a number of nightclubs and other public indoor venues, according to officials.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sworn that lockdowns will never be reinstated, and that Australians must now take personal responsibility for their health.
Perrottet recommended people not to get COVID testing if they had gotten news of being a probable contact with an infected person but were not exhibiting symptoms, according to a shift in messaging on Thursday.
Perrottet said that “this is putting enormous pressure on the system… but we need to make sure those people who need to get tested get tested in a timely manner.” There have been reports of hours-long wait times at testing centres, which have been blamed on people planning to travel interstate before Christmas.
Even though Morrison has requested them to lower the testing requirement, most states need travellers to have a negative test result 72 hours before departure in order to be granted entry.
Despite the increase in cases, hospitalizations are still significantly lower than they were during the Delta wave, with only 800 persons admitted out of approximately 44,000 active cases.
However, the health agency stated in an emailed statement that just 37 of those are Omicron cases. The Omrican variety has only one instance in intensive care and no deaths have been documented.
Even in the midst of the Omicron outbreak, Australia’s total of 273,000 infections and 2,173 deaths is significantly lower than that of many other countries.