Despite another spike in daily infections, Australia’s first confirmed death from the novel Omicron form of COVID-19 was announced on Monday, but authorities refrained from implementing new restrictions, claiming that hospitalisation rates remained low.
The death of the man, who was in his 80s and had underlying health issues, was a sombre turning point for the country, which had to halt some areas 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 six COVID-19 deaths reported in Australia the day before, all in the country’s most populous states, NSW and Victoria, which together account for more than half of the country’s 25 million people.
On Monday, the states of NSW, Victoria, and Queensland reported a total of 9,107 new cases, putting the country on track for another high in new infections. The five other states and territories had yet to provide daily case count information.
“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.”
“We need to make sure (Queenslanders) are protected,” she said.
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.
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