The two states hardest hit by the COVID virus have recorded the staggering combined total of 80 deaths in a single 24-hour period.
NSW latest numbers account for 49 of those COVID-related deaths amid 13,354 new virus cases – the highest-ever mortality rate since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, the lives of 31 Victorians have ended as 12,250 new COVID-19 infections were recorded.
The two states’ casualty toll, grim as it is, does come with a ray of hope that the COVID wave may have peaked, confirming epidemiologists’ projections that daily deaths will lag behind dropping case numbers.
NSW health officials are witnessing a similar decline in hospitalisations as numbers continue to ease, with 2693 patients in care, down from 2737 on Friday. Of these, 186 are in ICUs.
Meanwhile, more than eight million rapid antigen tests have been distributed to over 3000 NSW schools ahead of the start to term one.
Education secretary Georgina Harrisson says the task has been “one of the most challenging logistical undertakings in recent memory”.
Parents should already have been informed how to collect RATs before the first day of classes for public school students on Tuesday.
Those attending private schools went back on Thursday.
The government released its back-to-school plan last weekend, with advice that all students take a rapid test before the first day of term.
As criticism grew over the distribution of tests around the state, Premier Dominic Perrottet insisted on Thursday there was “never a requirement” for students to be rapid tested on day one.
Department staff have been volunteering their time, some delivering test kits to schools in their own cars, while one school used a ferry to get kits to families.
The back-to-school plan says testing will continue twice a week for the first four weeks of term.
The Premier said on Friday as school returned and people went back to the office there was “no doubt” case numbers would increase.
He added that the “health care system, hospitalisations and ICU were in a “strong position” to handle a possible surge.
“Living alongside the virus means there will be cases of the virus in the community each and every day,” Mr Perrottet said.
“When mobility increases, case numbers increase. That is the model we’ve moved to in NSW, Australia and around the world.”
NSW is currently 94 per cent double dosed, with 37.5 per cent also having received a booster shot.
Of children aged 5-11, 35.2 per cent have had their first vaccination.
Some 2943 patients were hospitalised with COVID-19 across the state on Wednesday, the highest-ever number.
NSW recorded 70 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, including 35 fatalities from aged care facilities who lagged on reporting to local health authorities in the past month.