Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia should keep pushing to remain open for Christmas due to the country’s high COVID vaccination rates.
Almost 90 per cent of Australia’s 16-plus population is fully vaccinated and more than 93 per cent have at least one dose.
Mr Morrison said the right measures were in place across the country to allow it to open up ahead of Christmas, but there was still a long way to go before the end of the pandemic.
“What we’re about to have is a gift Australians have given to themselves by the way they’ve worked together,” he said on Tuesday.
“It’s not over yet, we’ve got a long way to go. But we’re better prepared than almost any other country in the world to deal with this and continue to stare this virus in the face and live with it.”
Mr Morrison said Australia’s high vaccination rate meant there were “choices today that we didn’t have 18 months ago.”
“We’re not letting Omicron take us back, though. We’ve decided as a country to live with this virus,” he said.
But a top infectious diseases expert said a rise in virus case numbers showed the need to be careful over the Christmas-New Year period.
Australian National University professor Sanjaya Senanayake said the case reproduction number had lifted in NSW from 1.19 to 1.47.
“People just have to be careful,” he told Nine on Tuesday.
“If you can, be outside when you celebrate – better than being indoors. If you’re indoors and can’t physically distance safely, wear a mask and use the QR codes.”
It came ahead of restrictions easing further in NSW on Wednesday, including the reduction of the mask mandate and QR code check-in locations.
Cases surged in NSW on Tuesday but the number of people in intensive care has dropped to its lowest number in about four months.
The state had 804 new cases, with 168 people in hospital and 21 in intensive care. More than 93 per cent of NSW residents aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated.
The ACT had four new cases on Tuesday. Canberra has four people in hospital, including one in intensive care.
Meanwhile, Victoria had 1189 cases and six deaths on Tuesday.
The number of Omicron cases – including 21 new infections in NSW on Tuesday – also continues to rise following a Newcastle nightclub exposure site.
But Australian Medical Association vice-president Chris Moy said evidence pointed to the Omicron strain being less serious than Delta.
“If we are talking about a milder variant, even if it’s somewhat more infectious, hopefully it won’t be such a threat,” Dr Moy told the ABC.
“But on the flip side, if it is really infectious and we get a real peak in cases and say half are serious, it may still be a threat because we will get a large number of people in hospital at the same time.”