Driven by the highly transmissible omicron variant, Australia’s daily coronavirus infections on Thursday jumped to a fresh peak, overwhelming hospitals, while isolation rules caused labor shortages, pressure on companies and supply chains.
With Thursday’s count not yet complete, Australia has so far reported 72,392 new infections that easily set the high of 64,774 a day earlier. Western Australia will post its new cases later.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison, ahead of a federal election for May, is under pressure over his handling of the omicron epidemic due to lack of antigen testing and long waiting times at test centers.
After successfully keeping a lid on their COVID-19 caseload due to aggressive lockdowns earlier in the pandemic, Australia now suffers rates of infections much higher than elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, and some epidemiologists in the country predict that the worst is yet to come.
On Thursday, the government canceled Novak Djokovic’s visa to calm public anger over the decision to grant world tennis number one a medical exemption from vaccination to play at the Australian Open.
Authorities have relaxed the test requirements and have shortened the quarantine period for asymptomatic close contacts after worrying that essential services could overflow.
To reduce the pressure on companies, the Government of New South Wales (NSW) urged companies not to ask staff, who may have been exposed to the virus, to test themselves if they show no symptoms.
“They should not be required to take a test,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told 2GB radio station on Thursday. “This will take time for a change in behavior, because … for the last two years, we (everyone) have been told to go and test.”
About 50 per cent of truck drivers have been isolated due to COVID-19 protocols, putting Australia’s supply chain under “considerable pressure”, the transport workers’ union said on Wednesday.
Amid reports of low shelves in some supermarkets, Coles Group has reintroduced temporary purchase limits for some meat products “to manage the demand for key groceries.” Rival Woolworths said there were delays with stock deliveries, but excludes all restrictions now.
Tempers rage in Australia as COVID-19 cases break new records