On Monday, Australia announced its first confirmed death from the novel Omicron variant of COVID-19, amid the country’s largest daily increase in infections, but authorities declined to impose new restrictions, citing low hospitalisation rates.
The death of the guy, who was in his 80s and had underlying health issues, was a sombre turning point for the country, which had to reverse some aspects of a staged reopening after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns due to the new outbreak.
Omicron, which health experts say is more contagious but less virulent than previous strains, spread across Australia just as the government eased restrictions on most domestic borders and allowed Australians to return from overseas without quarantine, resulting in the pandemic’s highest case numbers.
The officials provided no further information about the Omicron death other than to mention that the guy contracted the virus in an aged care facility and died in a Sydney hospital.
In a video provided by the government, NSW Health epidemiologist Christine Selvey said, “This was the first known death in New South Wales (state) associated to the Omicron strain of concern.”
The man was one of seven COVID-19 deaths reported the day before in Australia. According to a Reuters assessment of official data, the country logged 10,186 new cases overall, the first total over 10,000 since the pandemic began. The majority of new cases were discovered in New South Wales and Victoria.
“Although we are seeing an increase in case numbers, we are not seeing the repercussions on our hospital system,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who reported 784 new cases and four people in hospitals.
With stories of six-hour COVID testing wait times for people trying to meet standards for interstate vacation travel, Palaszczuk justified the tourism-friendly state’s policy, saying “everyone understood when they purchased a ticket that if they wanted to come here they would have to undergo a PCR test.”
She did say, though, that Queensland was thinking about easing the testing requirements for domestic visitors. Tasmania, another famous tourist destination, has also stated that it is contemplating adjustments to state border testing regulations.
Meanwhile, the increase in illnesses has put a strain on testing resources across the country. SydPath, a Sydney testing clinic, had revealed the day before that it had mistakenly told 400 COVID-positive persons they were negative in the days leading up to Christmas; on Monday, it was discovered that it had sent incorrect result messages to another 995 people.
In the face of rising case numbers, Australian authorities have so far resisted a return to lockdown, but have imposed some limitations. NSW made it essential to check into public events via QR codes again on Monday, and many jurisdictions have reinstated required mask wear in indoor public spaces.
The country has also reduced the time between vaccine booster shots from six to four months, and it will soon be three months.