Australia’s daily Covid-19 cases surpass 100,000 for first time

In New South Wales, cases climbed to 45,098. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Australia reported more than 100,000 new Covid-19 cases for the first time in a single day, as home test results were included and some restrictions were reintroduced to ease pressure on a health system stressed by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Victoria state reported 51,356 cases on Saturday (Jan 8), more than double the day before, as it started counting results from rapid tests for the first time. Some 26,428 of the positive results came from the newly admitted tests, according to a government statement.

In New South Wales, cases climbed to 45,098, with 1,795 people hospitalised. The states recorded nine deaths each.

The surge comes as Victoria and New South Wales moved to suspend non-urgent surgeries and implemented new limitations on socialising to try to manage the pressure on its hospitals.

In New South Wales, where Sydney is the state capital, officials are bracing for hospitalisation numbers to more than double to a peak of 4,700 by late January. Reversing protocol from earlier in the pandemic, hospitals in the state are starting to treat patients with and without the virus in the same ward, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday.

Cases have skyrocketed across the country in recent weeks, with Australia Treasurer Josh Frydenberg joining other senior government officials to have contracted the disease.

“Like thousands of Australians, I tested positive today for Covid-19,” Mr Frydenberg wrote in a short message that he posted to Twitter and Facebook late on Friday (Jan 7).

“I have the common symptoms and am isolating with my family,” he added, without elaborating or disclosing which variant he had.

Other high-ranked Australian lawmakers, including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Defence Minister Peter Dutton, have contracted and overcome the illness.

Under current Australian Covid-19 guidelines, people who return a positive test and those deemed “close contacts” must isolate for seven days.

Amid a nationwide shortage in rapid antigen tests, the Australian government on Saturday moved to restrict “improper export” of the kits, and banned the re-sale of tests bought from retail outlets at prices higher than 120 per cent above the purchase price. The government is also considering capping the number of tests people can buy at any one time in an effort to prevent hoarding.

Australian leaders, including Mr Frydenberg, have been urging the country to move on from a strategy of stop-start lockdowns now that more than 90 per cent of the population aged over 16 are fully vaccinated.

But state leaders have been reintroducing restrictions amid exploding case numbers, mostly of the Omicron variant. A day earlier, New South Wales cancelled non-urgent surgery to clear hospital space for Covid-19 patents and resumed a ban on dancing and drinking while standing up in bars, measures to slow the spread.

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