Health

Australia’s New South Wales marks its highest COVID-19 death count

The home to Sydney and a third of
Australia’s 25 million people reported 16 deaths from the coronavirus in the
previous day. New South Wales reported 30,062 new infections, near record
levels.

The second-largest state, Victoria,
which hosts the Australian Open tennis tournament this month, reported 44,155
new COVID-19 cases and four deaths.

The country reported just under
100,000 cases overall, down from a record 116,025 the previous day, but still
surpassing most previous peaks. Total deaths for the day were 36.

With the surge bringing a rush for
government-funded pop-up testing clinics, the authorities have shifted their
messaging and urged people to instead take rapid antigen tests at home, then
report positive results to their doctor, who enters it into a database.

Authorities are calling for calm amid
reports of bare supermarket shelves as people stay home to avoid infection and
delivery personnel self-isolate due to virus exposure.

“We have seen very low rates of
significant illness,” federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters.
“It is the workforce furloughing which remains the principal challenge at
this point in time.”

The government and its health
advisers have cut mandatory isolation times for close contacts and narrowed the
definition of close contacts but were still reviewing the rules for furloughing
workers, Hunt said.

Australia meanwhile plans to start
vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 on Monday. Most states said they would begin
the new school year as scheduled at the end of January but Queensland, the
third most populous state, said it would postpone the return to school by two
weeks to give children time to be vaccinated.

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Despite the outbreak, political
leaders have cited Australia’s high vaccination rate – more than 90% of people
over 16 are fully vaccinated – to justify a reopening plan. But several states
in recent days have postponed non-urgent elective surgery to clear hospital
beds for COVID-19 patients and reintroduced mask mandates.

New South Wales, which emerged from
more than 100 days of lockdown late last year, has reinstated a ban on dancing
and drinking while standing up in bars.

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