The latest COVID numbers for hardest-hit NSW and Victoria are a chilling preview of what other states can expect as the coronavirus crosses borders and infections soar.
The number of NSW COVID-19 patients in intensive care remains stable despite the state adding a national record 2482 daily infections to its overall caseload.
Meanwhile Victoria has reported 1504 new COVID-19 infections and another seven deaths, as authorities probe whether infected Melbourne nightclub goers have the Omicron variant.
There are currently 206 virus patients in NSW hospitals, with 26 of them in ICUs – two more than for the previous reporting period. The state also recorded one further virus-related death in the 24 hours to Saturday.
In Victoria there are 384 hospitalised patients, 84 in intensive care and 43 on ventilators. As of Saturday, the state is now managing 13,443 active infections.
NSW health authorities say the state is 93.3 per cent fully vaccinated for everyone aged 16 and over, while 78 per cent of those aged 12-15 are double dosed.
Restrictions to return?
Meanwhile, Premier Dominic Perrottet is urging “perspective” as he faces pressure to reintroduce restrictions amid the record high numbers a week out from Christmas.
The state also recorded 2213 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, with the current numbers now four times those seen just a week ago.
However Mr Perrottet appears determined to hold his course and encourage individual responsibility rather than reimpose restrictions like mandatory masks in retail settings.
“It is obviously going to be a challenging time. We accept that,” he told reporters on Friday. “But we need perspective – our number one focus is to keep people safe, to keep hospitalisations and ICU numbers down.”
In Victoria, genomic sequencing has confirmed a case of the mutant Omicron strain is among 28 infections linked to two Melbourne nightclubs.
Health authorities are determining if any of the other cases, which include 16 who visited the Peel Hotel and 12 who visited Sircuit Bar, have the new variant.
It comes as the state government announced international travellers would no longer have to isolate for 72 hours after they arrive.
Instead, travellers who are fully vaccinated will have to take a test within 24 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result.
The changes come into effect from Tuesday next week and will also apply in NSW.
NSW Deputy Premier Paul Toole on Friday said the government would keep an eye on the numbers and continue to look at advice.
Keeping options open
Rules around masks will be a conversation the government will “continue to have in the coming days and weeks”.
But he said, “we are sticking with our road map at this point in time”.
Individuals can make the decision to wear masks if they are in high-risk areas, Mr Toole said.
He made it clear the government was not looking at imposing a localised lockdown on Newcastle, despite a huge surge in infections.
Thirty per cent of the new cases – a total of 674 – were reported in the Hunter New England Local Health District on Friday.
Meanwhile, NSW will join Victoria in walking away from imposing a 72-hour home quarantine requirement on all fully-vaccinated international arrivals from Tuesday.
Instead, the fully vaccinated will be required to be tested within 24 hours of arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result.