Queensland authorities are “actively considering” a return to compulsory masks after another 22 COVID cases on Thursday, including 18 who were out and about while potentially infectious.
The warning came as health authorities warned the Omicron variant was likely to spread rapidly across the state within weeks.
“There is nowhere in Queensland where you can hide from this virus,” Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said, urging people to carry and wear masks.
“The virus is coming into Queensland but we are going to decide how quickly it comes in. We are doing this in a safe way.”
Thursday’s local cases came from Brisbane, the Darling Downs, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, West Moreton and the Wide Bay. Most were acquired interstate.
Such a high number of new cases – up from six on Wednesday – would previously have put areas of Queensland at risk of lockdown. Instead, the state’s chief health officer Dr John Gerrard is considering mask mandates – and has warned that people will die as the Omicron wave escalates.
“I can tell you that we are identifying additional cases of Omicron hour by hour so there will be more cases tomorrow,” he said on Thursday.
“We are expecting this surge of the virus to occur within weeks here in Queensland.
“We are currently working on that modelling [similar to NSW], but we are expecting many cases. I think it is likely we will see fatal cases, particularly among the unvaccinated.”
Three earlier Queensland cases were confirmed to have the Omicron variant, including a man who flew from Newcastle to Townsville via Brisbane.
Another four Omicron cases were confirmed in Queensland on Thursday, including two in home quarantine and two cases acquired overseas, Ms D’Ath said.
NSW had another steep jump in cases on Thursday, to a record for a 24-hour period of 1742. It came as NSW Health issued a dire warning for up to 25,000 infections a day across the state.
Hospitalisations are yet to jump in NSW. It has 192 COVID patients in hospital, including 26 in intensive care.
Victoria had 1622 more infections on Thursday, its highest daily total since October, and nine deaths. The state’s hospitalisation rate is also climbing – there are 384 virus patients in hospital in Victoria, including 87 actively infected with the virus in ICU.
Ms D’Ath said Queensland would continue to require close contacts of confirmed cases to isolate for 14 days, meaning some people linked to recent infections will miss Christmas and the festive period with loved ones.
NSW and Victoria have halved isolation to seven days, a move Queensland plans to follow from January 1.
Also on Thursday, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged state leaders not to panic and close borders because of the renewed virus threat.
“We need to live with the virus. Nobody wants to go back into lockdown. That has a devastating effect on the economy … [and] people’s health and wellbeing,” he told the Seven network.
“My message to the premiers is not to panic, don’t overreact, show compassion and common sense.”
The World Health Organisation has warned the Omicron variant is now spreading faster than any previous variant of the virus.
According to the WHO, in the past week there have been more than four million new COVID-19 cases globally and 47,000 deaths. The African region, where the Omicron variant was first identified, has reported a 111 per cent rise in new cases in the past week.