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Coronavirus crisis: Deaths spike as Omicron ‘peak’ ravages Australia’s Eastern States

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Miriam FisherThe West Australian
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VideoDr. Jen Caudle discusses which masks work best in fighting the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 omicron variant.

Two new infections have been reported in WA amid news the latest Omicron outbreak has peaked elsewhere across Australia.

WA Health revealed the two new local COVID-19 cases were among nine reported to 8pm last night.

One of the new local cases is a woman linked to previously reported cases who is believed to have been infectious in the community.

The woman is now in self-quarantine and her known close contacts have been tested and are in quarantine.

The other local case, also a woman, is a close contact of a previously-reported case - both of whom are in self-quarantine.

It is believed this case was also infectious in the community and contact tracers are working to identify potential exposure sites.

Some exposure sites have now been added to the HealthyWA website with more to come.

A further six of the new reported cases acquired the virus interstate and one case is related to an overseas traveller.

All are in quarantine.

While there is hope the latest Omicron outbreak has peaked for certain States, WA - in particular - “is another story”.

Deaths are mounting and hospitalisations hitting record highs across the Eastern States as the pandemic tests the country’s health systems.

The figures come as private pathology labs send out more notifications to Victorians whose PCR tests have been deemed invalid because they are more than seven days old.

The lab said the situation arose over a backlog in tests due to “an unprecedented volume of samples enter(ing) our laboratories during the latest surge”.

While there is hope the latest Omicron outbreak has peaked for certain States, WA - in particular - ‘is another story’.

The news comes after it was reported last week another Melbourne pathology lab was revealed to have decided not to process week-old samples from 7000 tests taken over the busy Christmas and new year period.

In more positive news, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had reached a 95 per cent first-dose vaccination rate against COVID-19.

“That is often referred to as a full vaccination level but we want to go further, we want to continue to encourage Australians to come forward,” Mr Hunt said.

Mr Hunt also flagged a decision on the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine - which is not yet available in Australia - is expected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration “in the coming 10 days”.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said while there is hope the latest Omicron outbreak had peaked for certain States, WA - in particular - “is another story”.

“When they do start to get cases it will be later on. But for most of the rest of Australia, we are still on that upward curve, we may be plateauing and then there is a downswing of cases after that,” he said.

Read the latest State-by-State developments:

Omicron negative stain images created at the Doherty Institute. 
PICTURED: Transmission electron micrograph of negative-stained SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant virions, false-coloured.
Camera IconOmicron negative stain images created at the Doherty Institute. PICTURED: Transmission electron micrograph of negative-stained SARS-CoV-2 omicron variant virions, false-coloured. Credit: Dr Jason A. Roberts/Dr Jason A. Roberts, Head, Elect

NSW posts 48,768 virus cases, 20 deaths

NSW has recorded almost 50,000 new COVID-19 cases and a further 20 deaths as the State Government extends its rental relief scheme for small businesses amid the Omicron outbreak.

Treasurer Matt Kean on Saturday announced the scheme will be extended for two months until March 13.

Commercial and retail tenants will qualify for the relief if they have an annual turnover of less than $5 million and continue to meet eligibility criteria for since discontinued JobSaver or micro-business grant programs.

Landlords will also have more time to apply for land tax relief, with applications extended until February 28 for those eligible.

It comes as 48,768 positive results were returned the 24 hours to Saturday, with just under 22,000 of them collected from rapid antigen kits although around 15,000 of these were returns from the previous seven days.

There are 2576 patients in NSW hospitals, up on the 2525 reported on Friday. Of them, 193 are in intensive care and 58 need ventilation. During the Delta peak in September, there were 244 people in ICU.

The State is 93.8 per cent double dosed for eligible residents 16 or over.

More than 24 per cent have also had a booster, while 8.9 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received their first jab.

While more people are dying with the virus in NSW than at any other time during the pandemic authorities maintain things are going better than expected and predict the outbreak will soon peak.

Saturday’s fatalities bring the tally to 146 deaths reported over the past eight days.

Saturday’s fatalities bring the tally to 146 deaths reported over the past eight days, though a portion of those are understood to be historic and were classified following coronial investigations.

The latest 11 men and nine women to die were mostly aged in their 80s and 90s. Sixteen were vaccinated and four not.

Worst case scenario modelling suggests 6000 people could be in hospital at the peak of the outbreak, with 10 per cent in intensive care.

However, even best case scenario predictions paint a grimmer picture than reality, estimating 3158 people would be in hospital.

Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday said the State had “a difficult few weeks ahead” but things not currently being as bad as feared was “very reassuring and encouraging”.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant warned about half the people in NSW could become infected during the Omicron wave, though some would be asymptomatic and may never even know they had contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, the number of positive cases among detainees at Villawood detention centre has at least tripled since the confirmation of six cases in an outbreak on Tuesday.

However, reports from inside the facility suggest the case number could be as high as 68.

COVID TESTING
Camera IconVictoria has recorded 25,526 new COVID-19 infections on Saturday. NCA NewsWire / Nicki Connolly Credit: News Corp Australia

Victoria has 25,526 COVID cases, 23 deaths

Victoria has recorded 25,526 new COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths, as more residents are told their PCR tests are invalid after waiting more than seven days.

The new infections include 12,857 from rapid antigen tests and 12,669 from PCR tests, the State health department confirmed on Saturday.

There are a record 1054 patients in hospital, up 78 from Friday, including 115 in intensive care of whom 30 are on a ventilator.

The State is managing 227,105 active cases.

The figures come as private pathology labs send out more notifications to Victorians whose PCR tests have been deemed invalid because they are more than seven days old.

“Impacted patients will be notified via text message in the near future. We regret the inconvenience caused to our patients by the delay in results,“ Australian Clinical Labs said in an update published on Friday.

“Our laboratory staff are doing all they can in getting through the current backlog, and like all pathology companies in Victoria, we have seen an unprecedented volume of samples enter our laboratories during the latest surge.”

One Melbourne woman, who was tested on January 5, received the memo on Friday evening.

ACL recommended she use a rapid antigen test or self-quarantine for seven days post her first test date, which has already passed.

The company was one of four private pathology providers to suspend operations across 54 Victorian testing sites earlier this month to allow their labs to catch up on the test backlog.

Another of the quartet, Melbourne Pathology, last week decided not to process week-old samples from 7000 tests taken over the busy Christmas and new year period.

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

COVID TESTING QUEENSLAND
Camera IconQueensland has recorded 19,709 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday. NCA NewsWire / Dan Peled Credit: News Corp Australia

QLD has 19,709 new virus cases, six deaths

Border checkpoints are being dismantled in Queensland with domestic travellers no longer required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test as the State recorded another 19,709 virus cases and six deaths.

Since 1am on Saturday, interstate visitors have been welcomed into Queensland regardless of where they have come from, without the need for a border pass or negative test.

With domestic border controls now lifted, Queensland Police are removing border check points, drawing the curtain on an epic operation.

Gold Coast District Acting Chief Superintendent Rhys Wildman said the barricades that played a central role in preventing COVID-19 outbreaks as vaccination rates rose in Queensland would be completely gone by 5am on Sunday - and he does not expect them to return.

“The vaccination rates here are high enough and hospital rates are so low compared to the case numbers so we are achieving our outcomes,” Mr Wildman said.

Queensland was initially set to dump all border controls when it hit a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 90 per cent - a target expected to be achieved next week.

But the shift has been brought forward with the Omicron variant already widespread in the community and 90 per cent of eligible Queenslanders to be double-jabbed in the coming days.

Queensland’s latest figures show 91.48 per cent of those eligible have had one jab and 88.51 per cent have received two.

There are 649 people being treated for COVID-19 in hospital, including 46 in intensive care.

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall.
Camera IconPremier Steven Marshall is hopeful SA will hit a peak of COVID-19 infections in the next few days. Credit: AAP

SA has 4349 COVID-19 cases, four deaths

South Australia has reported 4349 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths.

Premier Steven Marshall says Saturday’s figures include 3175 infections confirmed with PCR tests and 1242 from State-issued rapid antigen tests.

He described the figures as a “significant reduction” on the 5679 infections recorded on Friday, which was the first day rapid antigen tests were included in the daily totals and came after a delay in processing PCR tests following hot weather on Wednesday and Thursday.

There are 236 people in hospital - a drop of 10 from Friday’s numbers - including 26 in ICU, seven of whom are on ventilators.

Under the SA government’s modelling, released on Friday, daily cases are expected to reach between 6000 and 10,000 when the outbreak reaches its peak, predicted for between January 15 and 25.

“The numbers that we’re seeing today fit exactly within the model that was delivered yesterday,” Mr Marshall told reporters on Saturday.

“I’m very hopeful that we do hit that peak in the next couple of days in South Australia, and then we head towards reducing those numbers.”

An ACT resident at a vaccine clinic in Canberra.
Camera IconMore than 98 per cent of Canberrans aged 12 and over have received two COVID-19 vaccine doses. Credit: AAP

ACT records 1320 new COVID-19 cases

The ACT has recorded 1320 new COVID-19 cases, with rapid antigen test results now being taken into the official tally.

Health authorities say there were 691 positives from RATs and 629 from PCR lab tests in the 24 hours to 8pm on Friday.

The Territory is now managing 3316 active virus cases in total.

There are 30 virus patients in Canberra hospitals, up three on Friday. Three of them are being treated in intensive care units and receiving ventilation.

The ACT opened a method for rapid test reporting on Wednesday, with 1178 positive cases added to the total number of infections from RATs taken between January 8 and January 12.

More than 15 per cent of Canberrans aged five to 11 have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 98.6 per cent of people aged 12 and over have had two doses.

Of adults aged 18 and over, 28.1 per cent have also received a booster dose, with the figure unchanged since Friday.

North West Regional Hospital in Burnie, Tasmania.
Camera IconTasmania's North West Regional Hospital is facing staff shortages as COVID-19 continues to bite. Credit: AAP

Tasmania posts 1139 new COVID-19 cases

Tasmania has reported 1139 new coronavirus cases, as overall active infection numbers in the State drop for a third straight day.

Twenty-two people with COVID-19 are in hospital, with 10 of those being treated specifically for virus symptoms. One person is in intensive care.

The other 12 people in hospital have COVID-19 but are being treated for unrelated medical conditions.

The new infections have come from 884 self-reported rapid antigen tests and 255 PCR tests.

Tasmania’s health department says 1470 people have been released from isolation in the past 24 hours.

It means there are 7108 reported active cases, down from 7439 on Friday and 7969 on Thursday.

Thirty cases are staying in community management facilities and 300 people are using COVID-at-home care.

It comes as elective surgery and other services at a hospital in northwest Tasmania are being reduced due to COVID-caused staff shortages.

COVID ACROSS AUSTRALIA

  • TOTAL NEW CASES - 101,223
  • TOTAL NEW DEATHS - 54
  • NSW - 48,768 new cases, 20 deaths
  • VIC - 25,526 new cases, 23 deaths
  • QLD - 19,709 new cases, six deaths
  • SA - 4349 new cases, four deaths
  • ACT - 1320 new cases
  • TAS - 1139 new cases
  • NT - 412 new cases, one death
  • WA - 2 new cases

COVID ACROSS THE WORLD (VIA JOHNS HOPKINS AS AT 1415 WA TIME)

  • TOTAL CASES - at least 323,272,813
  • TOTAL DEATHS - at least 5,529,154
  • TOTAL VACCINE DOSES ADMINISTERED - at least 9,592,657,967

With AAP

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