New South Wales (NSW), the Australian state with the largest population, is reporting a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections. On Dec. 25, state authorities reported 6,394 infections, up from 6,288 cases the previous day. When it came to hospitalizations, there were 458 active cases, up from 388 a day earlier. 52 people were admitted to the ICU. On Dec. 1, NSW had reported just 271 cases.
Over 70 percent of new infections in some states are now exclusively dominated by the Omicron variant that originated in South Africa. However, the dominant variant in NSW is unknown since the state does not carry out routine genomic testing to determine the strain. According to NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, Omicron is widespread in the state.
“We would expect that pretty well everybody in New South Wales at some point will get omicron… If we’re all going to get omicron, the best way to face it is when we have full vaccinations including our booster,” Hazzard said in a statement. He asked citizens not to go to hospitals or call an ambulance unless there are signs of severe COVID-19 symptoms, citing the “enormous pressure” facing the state’s healthcare system.
The increase in COVID-19 infections is happening despite high vaccination rates. As of Dec. 23, 95 percent of NSW citizens aged 16 and above had received at least a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 93.5 percent are considered fully vaccinated.
Among 12 to 15-year-olds, these figures stood at 81.6 percent and 78.3 percent respectively. Despite this scenario, NSW authorities urged fully vaccinated people to take a third booster shot.
“Masks are now compulsory in all indoor, non-residential settings, including for hospitality staff and in offices, unless eating or drinking… From today, QR code check-ins are also compulsory. Hospitality venues including pubs, clubs, restaurants, and cafes have moved to 1 person per 2 square meter rules indoors. There are no density limits for outdoor settings. All settings will remain in place until Thursday 27 January 2022,” the NSW government said in a Dec. 27 update.
Thousands of citizens have been isolated at home due to contacting someone who was infected with the COVID-19 virus. Pharmacists and doctors in the state said that they were running out of vaccine doses as there has been a rush to get vaccinated due to concerns over the spread of Omicron.
Complicating the situation is a botch-up made by a COVID-19 testing lab that mistakenly classified over 400 people as having tested negative for the virus when in reality these people were infected. The notification was sent to patients via St. Vincent’s Hospital pathology service SydPath.
“An emergency response team is now investigating the cause of this mistake, which is believed to be human error… We sincerely apologized to those impacted,” the hospital said in a statement.
According to Anthony Dodds, medical director at SydPath, the botch-up took place as the lab was burdened with a “very large volume of tests” in recent days. As soon as they came to know about the mistake, SydPath “immediately” began to contact the affected individuals.
In Victoria, the second-most populous state after NSW, 1,608 new cases were reported on Dec. 26, with 374 people admitted to hospitals and 77 in ICU. Over 30,000 people in the state were isolated at home during Christmas time, with around half of them reported to be active cases.