Australian state sees major spike in cases, hospitalization

Australia has reported a major spike in coronavirus infections, a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected lockdowns or mask mandates to slow the spread of the omicron variant

SYDNEY — Australia on Thursday reported a major spike in coronavirus infections, a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected lockdowns or mask mandates to slow the spread of the omicron variant.

The most populous state, New South Wales, recorded 5,715 new cases, up from 3,763 and almost as many as were recorded across all of Australia on Wednesday. New South Wales also reported one death.

There were 347 people in New South Wales hospitals, up from 302 the previous day, and 45 in intensive care units, up from 40. Victoria state also saw a sharp increase, reporting 2,005 new infections on Thursday and 10 deaths.

Morrison on Wednesday convened a Cabinet meeting with leaders of Australia’s states and territories. He later told reporters lockdowns and mask mandates are not being considered.

A decision on whether the gap between second vaccine doses and booster shots will be shortened will be left to the Australian Technical Advise Group on Immunization.

“My message is stay calm, get your booster, follow the commonsense behavioral measures as you’re going into Christmas and we look forward to that,” Morrison said. “Australians have worked very hard to have this Chrismas together and we want to protect that.”

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said after Wednesday’s meeting that his government was working to make rapid antigen tests more readily available. The tests previously have been scarce and expensive.

“Providing rapid antigen testing kits for those who want to do the right thing will help take the pressure of our testing clinics while giving people confidence to get on with their lives,” Perrottet said.

His state government continues to shun mask mandates but on Thursday announced it would require patrons at business, hospitality and other venues to check in by scanning QR codes to assist contact tracing.

Victoria moved more forcefully, expanding current regulations to require residents aged over 8 years to wear masks in hospitality, entertainment and office settings. The new rules will come into force at midnight Thursday.

Australia’s federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said mask wearing and other regulations are a matter for states and territories to decide individually.

“But states and territories with their public health orders, whether it’s QR codes in New South Wales, whether it’s the masks in Victoria, have responded well and I think it’s important for me to acknowledge that,” he said.

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