Australians are being urged to get coronavirus booster shots, as the country posts another grim virus death toll.
There were 39 more deaths with COVID in Victoria on Friday – its deadliest day since the heights of the second wave in September 2020 – and another 35 in NSW, a record 18 in Queensland, and another in the ACT.
It came as hospital numbers showed signs of declining across the country, but health experts warned there would be more grim daily tolls to come.
“The states and territories are announcing now a reduction in the number of hospitalisations, the number of people in intensive care and those requiring ventilation,” chief nursing and midwifery officer Professor Alison McMillan said in Canberra.
“But as we have seen during the two years of this pandemic, the number of deaths associated with those cases, the numbers stay higher for a longer period. There is a delay in the number of deaths and sadly we have seen quite a number of deaths reported by Victoria and NSW today.”
Tasmania had 584 COVID-19 cases on Friday, its lowest daily figure since early January. Queensland reported 9974 and the ACT 734, while other states and territories are yet to provide updates.
Professor McMillan, who stressed “these are not just numbers”, said deaths were occurring in a wide range of circumstances.
“These numbers are … across a range of ages. Obviously, those with chronic disease, the elderly are more susceptible,” she said.
“But that’s not solely who is sadly passing away … Omicron and COVID can take victims across the entire population.”
Professor McMillan also urged Australians to book booster shots, as soon as they were eligible.
“At the moment, the recommended time frame is four months after your second dose. But as of Monday, it’s three months. So really I am encouraging everyone that now, if you are eligible, you really should be making that appointment to get your booster,” she said.
Some states and territories – including NSW and Victoria – have already been administering booster shots at three-month intervals in their vaccine hubs.
But Health Minister Brad Hazzard has expressed his frustration that just 36 per cent of the eligible population in NSW has had a booster shot, despite supply being plentiful.
He blamed mixed messaging for the slow take-up.
“It is a very clear message now: Four to six weeks after you’ve had COVID, you can have the booster,” he said, echoing the advice of chief health officer Kerry Chant.
On Thursday, NSW Health deputy secretary Susan Pearce suggested “a perception in the community that Omicron is milder” was to blame for vaccination bookings going begging.
Mr Hazzard backed that view on Friday.
“In one sense, it is less severe, in another because of the total numbers, it’s quite severe,” he said.
People who have not contracted COVID should have their booster shot three months after their second jab, Mr Hazzard said.
“The booster is what will slow the transmission, but also reduce the likelihood of the severe illness, so for everybody who is eligible, please go and get the booster as quickly as possible,” he told ABC TV on Friday.
About 100,000 vaccine slots in NSW-run clinics went unfilled last week. Some vaccine hubs had only a handful of people turn up, creating a “ridiculous” situation where health staff were “twiddling thumbs” at empty hubs, unable to help sick people elsewhere, Mr Hazzard said.
He has also joined Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in pushing for national cabinet to rule that three doses of the vaccine will be required to be considered fully vaccinated in Australia.
National cabinet made no change to the definition of “fully vaccinated” when it met on Thursday. It is still awaiting official advice from ATAGI, the national immunisation advisory body.
“The Victorian government and the NSW government have been the two governments that have largely faced the onslaught of this virus right from the start,” Mr Hazzard told Sky News Australia on Friday.
“We are as close as we can be in lockstep in responding now at this present Omicron stage.
“In my view as Health Minister in NSW, I would like to see it very clearly stated to the community that three shots are what you need.”
Elsewhere, the Therapeutic Goods Administration has given provisional approval for Pfizer booster shots for 16 and 17-year-olds.
A final green light is still needed from Australia’s leading vaccine advisory group ATAGI before the boosters are rolled out further.
NSW reported 13,333 more COVID cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, including 6256 from PCR tests.
Across the state, the number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care has risen 8 per cent in two days. On Friday, there were 189 people were in intensive care, up from 181 on Thursday and 175 on Wednesday.
However, the figures remain lower than last week’s peak of 217.
Hospitals in NSW are treating 2737 COVID patients – slightly below the seven-day average.
NSW has confirmed nearly 900,000 cases in the past four weeks and 950,000 in the past six weeks.
Victoria confirmed 12,755 COVID-19 more infections on Friday, made up of 5345 from PCR tests and 7410 from rapid tests.
The state has 101,605 active virus cases.
There has been a drop in virus hospitalisations. They were down by by 69 to 988 patients, from 1057 on Thursday.
There are 114 people in intensive care, a decrease of three. They include 40 on ventilators.
More than 35 per cent of Victorians aged over 18 have received a COVID-19 vaccine booster, with 23,252 doses administered at state hubs on Thursday.