The Australian government said the Omicron strain of Covid-19 had a lower impact, thus the country can move forward with efforts to restore the economy even as new infections reached a record high of over 37,000 and the number of people hospitalised increased.
On Monday, the states of Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania, as well as the Australian Capital Territory, reported record daily case numbers.
In New South Wales, there were 20,794 instances, up from Sunday’s total but down from Saturday’s daily high of 22,577. Testing numbers were lower over the New Year’s holiday weekend.
With Western Australia and the Northern Territory left to report, the national daily total touched a new high of more than 37,150 cases, surpassing Saturday’s 35,327 instances.
“We need to stop worrying about case counts and start thinking about serious disease, living with the virus, managing our own health, making sure we’re monitoring those symptoms and keeping our economy moving,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters.
In New South Wales, hospitalizations increased by more than 10% from Sunday to 1,204, more than three times the level on Christmas Day.
The government was advised that the Omicron strain was more transmissible but milder than other varieties, reducing the risk to both individuals and the health system, according to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
The considerable increase in hospitalizations, combined with the high holiday season and the amount of health professionals exposed to COVID, put pressure on capacity, according to Michael Bonning, chairman of the Australian Medical Association’s New South Wales Council.
“We’re finding that it’s becoming quite difficult to staff, especially crucial areas of hospitals, with both the Christmas time and hospital workers being furloughed owing to their close contact status,” he told media.
The government modified its guidance on when people should get a free PCR test for COIVD-19 in late December, and is now urging people to use fast antigen tests more frequently, in part to ease pressure on testing capacity.
However, fast antigen tests are in low supply, and Morrison stated that the government will not cover the expense of self-testing, which he estimated to be A$15 ($10.90).
“We’re at a point in this pandemic where we can’t just go about making everything free,” he remarked.
On Monday, eight people died of COVID, bringing the total number of people who have died as a result of the epidemic to more than 2,260.