Australian cities mask up as Omicron numbers surge
New South Wales and Victoria move to limit potential impact on health care systems as residents are urged to be ‘cautious over Christmas’
Australia’s two most-populous states are bringing back mask mandates as a surge in Covid-19 cases, led by the highly contagious Omicron variant, threatens to roil Christmas plans for a second year.
In New South Wales, where Sydney is the capital, limits will also return on the number of patrons in hospitality venues from December 27, in an attempt to limit the potential impact on the state’s health care system. Numbers are climbing at a slower rate in Victoria, home to Melbourne, which hadn’t eased public restrictions as fast as its neighbouring state in recent weeks.
Both states will require masks to be worn in all indoor settings apart from private homes from Friday.
“Obviously there is concern in relation to our health workers,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters on Thursday. “We believe the changes that we are making today will ensure our health system is well manned over the holiday season as we go through this next stage.”
New South Wales reported a 52% jump in cases to a record 5,715 on Thursday. Perrottet reiterated the number of people needing serious treatment in hospital was still low and manageable, saying the health system was so far coping.
A total of 349 people in the state are in hospital — the most since the start of November. But the number of patients being treated in intensive care units is at 45, compared with 77 almost two months ago when Delta was the dominant variant.
“We just ask everybody across our state to be cautious over Christmas,” said Perrottet.
Omicron is putting pressure on Australia’s push to fully reopen. New South Wales and Victoria states recently removed months-long lockdowns which Prime Minister Scott Morrison says are now unnecessary due to a relatively high vaccination rate. Many testing centres have become overwhelmed due to the dramatic rise in case numbers and as some states require visitors to show a negative result from a test taken within 72 hours before arrival.
Victoria recorded 2,005 new cases on Thursday, with 398 people hospitalised and 72 in ICU. The state will also require face masks to be worn at major outdoor events with more than 30,000 people.
New cases in Queensland, the third-most populous state, doubled on Thursday from the day before to 369.
“Not only is the spread of this virus inevitable, it is necessary,” Queensland Chief Health Officer John Gerrard told reporters on Thursday. “In order for us to go from the pandemic phase to an endemic phase, the virus has to be widespread. We all have to have immunity.”
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