Australia's New South Wales state reintroduces curbs as Omicron rages

Cafes and restaurants in New South Wales will have capacity limits under the new restrictions. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australia’s most-populous state suspended non-urgent surgeries and introduced fresh curbs on socialising, as the government tries to ease pressure on its health system caused by skyrocketing Covid-19 cases.  

Singing and dancing at clubs and bars is banned in New South Wales (NSW) from Saturday (Jan 8) until Jan 27, while residents are being encouraged to limit large indoor and outdoor gatherings, and to remain seated while drinking in hospitality settings, Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters Friday.  

Major events will be risk assessed by two government departments and frontline staff such as nurses and teachers now face mandatory booster vaccine shots to be considered fully vaccinated, he said.  

A peak in hospitalisations is expected in late January, with 4,700 hospital beds and 273 intensive care places expected to be occupied by Covid-19 patients at that time, according to modelling released by the government.

The state has 1,000 intensive care beds and 9,500 total beds, with a further 3,000 beds in the private hospital system which may be accessed if needed, the modelling shows.  

"Minimising mingling during this period of time obviously provides greater assistance across the board,” Mr Perrottet said, while assuring residents that hospitals will be able to cope even in the worse-case scenarios.  

The changes come as NSW, which includes Sydney and has a population of more than 8 million people, reported a record 38,625 daily cases Friday, compared with daily numbers of under 500 in early December.

Hospitalisations jumped to 1,738 from 166 on Dec 15 when most Covid restrictions, including mask mandates, were lifted.  

Friday’s changes are the latest in a string of curbs Mr Perrottet has gradually reintroduced as cases climb. Mask mandates and density limits in hospitality venues were brought back last month.  

NSW’s Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the moves were aimed at blunting the peak and would help "reduce the impact we’re seeing on our hospitals and those other critical services in the community."

The tide of Omicron cases has hobbled supply chain networks across the country with many workers either sick or in isolation, casting a pall over first-quarter economic growth.  

NSW will also join Victoria and Tasmania states in incorporating positive rapid antigen test results in the daily Covid case count with a new system expected to be in place by the middle of next week.

Australians are being encouraged to use the at-home kits instead of lining up for PCR tests, following hours-long queues for testing and long delays in getting results. 

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