Australia reports 43 Covid-19 deaths before expanded border reopening

A woman takes a test for the coronavirus at a testing centre in Sydney, Australia, on Jan 5, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Australia recorded 43 coronavirus-related deaths on Saturday (Feb 19), as it readies to welcome international tourists on Monday for the first time in nearly two years.

The country, which shut its borders in March of 2020, has been gradually reopening since November, allowing first Australians to travel, then international students and workers, and now leisure travellers.

Once a champion of a zero-Covid-19 strategy, the country has moved to live with the coronavirus in the community, chiefly through high vaccination rates that have resulted in less severe cases and fewer hospitalisations.

Even Western Australia, the mining-heavy state that has kept strict borders controls for almost 700 days, has decided it can cope with the Omicron outbreak and will reopen to triple-vaccinated visitors.

The state on Saturday recorded 257 new community infections, its highest yet, and no deaths. Australia's deaths were reported mainly in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, states that continue to see several thousand daily cases or more.

Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, will open a new quarantine hub for unvaccinated international residents on Monday.

"The Omicron variant has shown us we must continue to be flexible in our pandemic response - and the purpose-built (hub) will be vital to how we manage pandemics today and into the future," Ms Lisa Neville, the state's Police Minister responsible for quarantining, said on Saturday.

Fully vaccinated travellers, Australians and international, are not required to quarantine in managed facilities.

New Zealand, Australia's closest neighbour, which keeps its international borders nearly fully shut, recorded 1,901 community cases, one of its highest daily tallies.

The two are among the most highly vaccinated countries, with more than 94 per cent of people aged 16 and over double-dosed in Australia and 94 per cent of those 12 and older fully vaccinated in New Zealand.

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