SYDNEY (Reuters) – Hospital admissions for COVID-19 in Australia have reached a new high for a second straight day, data showed on Tuesday, while the daily death toll rose to its second-highest as an outbreak fuelled by a coronavirus sub-variant sweeps the country.
Nearly 5,600 patients infected with COVID are in hospital while 100 new deaths were reported, just short of a record 102 deaths on Saturday.
Nearly 330,000 infections have been reported over the last seven days but authorities say the real numbers could be double that.
“It’s time to come together again and fight: get vaccinated, use a mask in crowds and indoors, and stay home if you’re sick,” said the premier of hard-hit Queensland state, Annastacia Palaszczuk.
The COVID flare-up is being driven by the highly infectious BA.4/5 Omicron sub-variant, and it is putting severe pressure on hospitals and retirement homes.
Queensland, battling its worst outbreak in the pandemic, expects its patient numbers to peak in around late August, modelling from the state’s health department showed.
Along with rising hospitalisations, many front-line workers are off sick or in isolation, worsening the crisis.
Hospitals will add beds and shift more staff to front-line duties, Palaszczuk said.
In Victoria state, more than 8% of staff in the health sector, or about 10,000 employees, are off sick, Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters.
Like many countries, Australia has ditched its toughest coronavirus precautions and has been living with the virus since early this year.
Authorities are resisting the pressure to reinstate them, including calls from some doctors to make masks mandatory indoors.
Instead, they have urged businesses to let staff work from home and recommended people to get booster shots urgently.
About 71% of the eligible population have had boosters compared with 95% who had two shots.
In all, the country of nearly 26 million people has reported about 9.2 million COVID cases and 11,300 deaths.
(Reporting by Renju Jose)