SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Tuesday suffered its deadliest day of the pandemic as a fast-moving Omicron outbreak continued to push up hospitalisation rates to record levels, even as daily infections eased slightly.
Australia is dealing with its worst COVID-19 outbreak, fuelled by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus that has put more people in hospitals and intensive care than at any time during the pandemic.
A total of 74 deaths were registered by late morning between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, Australia’s three most populous states, exceeding the previous national high of 57 last Thursday, official data showed.
“Today, is a very difficult day for our state,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said during a media briefing as the state reported 36 deaths, a new pandemic high.
Perrottet, who has consistently ruled out any tough curbs due to high vaccination levels, said hospitals can still cope with the rising number of admissions. “Despite the challenges, they are not unique to the rest of the world,” he said.
Amid rising hospitalisations, Victoria on Tuesday declared a “code brown” in hospitals, typically reserved for shorter-term emergencies, that would give hospitals the power to cancel non-urgent health services and cancel staff leave.
Authorities have said unvaccinated younger people form a “significant number” of the country’s hospital admissions.
Even as states look to avoid lockdowns and keep businesses open, Australian consumer confidence took a battering last week, an ANZ survey out on Tuesday showed, as the Omicron surge triggered self-imposed lockdowns and stifled spending.
Omicron has also dented Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s approval ratings, according to a widely watched poll on Tuesday, putting opposition Labor into a leading position months out from a federal election.
Just over 67,000 new infections were reported in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, down from a national high of 150,000 last Thursday. Other states are due to report later.
Australia has reported about 1.6 million infections since the pandemic began, of which around 1.3 million were in the last two weeks. Total deaths stood at 2,757.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Richard Pullin)