Australia suffers record COVID cases, straining businesses and supply chains

With Thursday’s count still incomplete, Australia so
far has reported 72,392 new infections easily exceeding the high of 64,774 set
a day earlier. Western Australia is due to post its new cases later.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, facing a federal
election before May, is under pressure over his handling of the Omicron
outbreak due to stock shortages of antigen tests and hours-long wait times at
testing centres.

Having successfully kept a lid in its COVID-19
caseload through aggressive lockdowns earlier in the pandemic, Australia is now
suffering infections rates far 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 cancelled Novak Djokovic’s
visa to pacify public anger over the decision to give the world tennis number
one a medical exemption from vaccination to play at the Australian Open.

Authorities have relaxed testing requirements and have
shortened the quarantine period for asymptomatic close contacts after concerns
essential services might become overrun.

To ease the pressure on businesses, the New South
Wales (NSW) government urged firms to avoid asking staff, who might have been
exposed to the virus, to get themselves tested if they do not exhibit any

“They should not be required to get a test,”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told radio station 2GB on Thursday. “This
will take time for a change in behaviour because … over the last two years we’ve
been saying (everyone) to go and get tested.”

About 50% of truck drivers are isolated due to COVID
protocols, putting Australia’s supply chain under “significant
pressure”, the transport workers union said on Wednesday.

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Amid reports of empty shelves in some supermarkets,
Coles Group reintroduced temporary purchase limits for some meat products
“to help manage demand for key grocery items.” Rival Woolworths said
there were delays with stock deliveries but ruled out any restrictions now.

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