Raging Omicron sets alarm bells in New South Wales

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Sydneysiders at Bondi Beach at the weekend after restrictions were eased (AFP Photo)

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Sydney, December 20, 2021

The number of people with Covid-19 in hospitals in New South Wales (NSW) jumped almost 15% during the past 24 hours (to 8 pm on December 19, 2021) after the state recorded 2501 new cases.

The State has 261 people under treatment for Covid-19 in hospital, up from 206 on Saturday (December 18, 2021) and 226 yesterday (December 19, 2021).

Intensive care patients also rose to 33 from 26 during the same reporting period.

The latest figures were taken from more than 144,368 swabs.

Premier calls for Stand Tall

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said that rising infection numbers were expected and urged the state to ‘stand tall.’

“As we move through the next phase, case numbers will increase. That is the new normal. When we believe that there is evidence in front of us we need to potentially tighten restrictions, we will do so,” he said.

Presentations to intensive care units were the “key metric” to consider, he said.

Cases jump as restrictions ease

Cases were expected to jump with the ongoing relaxation of public health orders, while the Omicron variant has been blamed for the fast rise in infections.

Long queues have been spotted at testing sites across the state, driven by surging case numbers and mandatory PCR tests for travel interstate.

There have also been several reports of Rapid Antigen Tests – a Covid-19 home testing kit that can produce results in 15 minutes – being sold out across pharmacies and retail stores.

There were no deaths reported in the latest reporting period.

The scene in Victoria

Victoria has recorded 1302 new local Covid-19 cases and zero deaths, as the State’s hospitalisations have risen to the highest level in more than a month. There are now 13,175 active cases of the virus in Victoria, and the death toll for the current outbreak remains at 635. There are 406 people in hospital with Covid-19, including 81 active cases in intensive care, and 43 patients are on a ventilator.

It is the highest number of patients in hospital since November 12, 2021, when the State was coming out of its third major wave of Covid-19 infections since the pandemic began.

The seven-day average for hospitalisations has been rising this month, from 296 on 6 December to 383 today.

The above report by ABC was published by Radio New Zealand, published under a Special Agreement with www.rnz.co.nz

A Covid-19 Testing Centre on Bondi Beach, Sydney, 15 December 2021 (AFP Photo)

RNZ reports further:

There are 69 new cases of Covid-19 in the community today (December 20, 2021) and nine further cases of the Omicron variant among international arrivals.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that the total number of Omicron variant cases in the country is now 22 and all of them are in Managed Isolation Quarantine (MIQ). One of them is reported to have recovered.

Today’s community cases include 59 in Auckland, seven in Waikato, two in Bay of Plenty, and one in Taranaki.

There are 62 cases in hospital today, including 11 in North Shore, 31 in Auckland, 15 in Middlemore, two in Waikato, and three in Tauranga. Seven cases are in ICU or HDU across the country. In the Waikato region, five are in Te Kuiti and one each in Te Kuiti and one each in Te Kuiti, Huntly and Tokoroa.

One Western Bay of Plenty case reported today is linked to previously reported cases, and one is still being investigated for potential links. Both are isolating at home.

Today’s Taranaki case is linked to one in New Plymouth.

In Auckland, health and welfare providers are supporting 1999 people to isolate at home, including 551 cases.

Two Covid-19 cases were identified at the border today, one from Great Britain and another from Ireland. Both travelled via the UAE and tested positive on day one testing after arriving on December 17, 2021.

Serious risks warned

Covid-19 modelling experts warn that the highly-transmissible Omicron variant poses a serious risk to a largely unrestricted summer.

More cases would keep arriving at the border, increasing the chance one would leak out into the community, Te Pūnaha Matatini complex systems researcher Dr Dion O’Neale said.

“At the moment, most of those infections in the MIQ will be Omicron because it is most of the cases in countries from which people are arriving in New Zealand. It is a matter of time before it gets into the community,” he said.

With Omicron, some environments pose a high risk, such as nightclubs and concerts. But even environments like restaurants and cafes could be the site of dozens of infections if a positive case attended.

“It is the case of having lots of small events where people might be infecting dozens of people at a time. That’s a way that you quickly get things out of control. Orange, like a traffic light level as part of the Covid Protection Framework, is not fit for purpose if we have Omicron in the community,” Dr O’Neale said.

He said that an outbreak here would probably mirror what’s happened in New South Wales.

Two weeks ago, the Australian State had around 200 cases a day, while on Sunday it recorded 2558. The state’s health authorities believe most of the cases are Omicron.

A single case is enough

Covid Modeller Michael Plank said that a single case could jeopardise some of our hard-fought freedoms. It would depend on whether the case had a clear link to the border or had been in the community.

“If we have a case in the community, we will need an intensive contact tracing operation around it, and there may be a case for additional restrictions on top of that. If the variant became established, it would spread extremely quickly, as even fully vaccinated people were not as protected as with Delta. The ability of Omicron to infect people who have had both doses of the vaccine is significantly higher than for Delta,” he said.

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