Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, has reported a record high number of COVID-19 cases as the Omicron explosion turns the holidays into chaos.
The state, home to Sydney and a third of Australia’s 25 million people, reported 6,394 new infections, up from 6,288 a day earlier.
Amid a vaccine rush spurred by concern over the Omicron variant, doctors and pharmacists in New South Wales have said they are running out of doses of the vaccine.
“We expect that just about everyone in NSW will get omicron at some point,” State Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
“If we’re all going to get Omicron, the best way to deal with it is when we have full vaccinations, including our booster,” he added.
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Meanwhile, a large state lab called SydPath sent false results to around 400 people saying they tested negative for COVID-19 had in fact tested positive.
“An emergency response team is currently investigating the cause of this error, which is believed to be due to human error. We sincerely apologize, ”said SydPath Medical Director Anthony Dodds.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt had said that from Jan.4 the country would offer booster shots to anyone over the age of 18 who received a second injection four months earlier and that the interval would be reduced again to three months by the end of the month.
“These dates were set out of caution to give Australians continued and early protection,” Hunt told reporters in Canberra.
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Australia is seeking to accelerate the rollout of boosters after becoming one of the most vaccinated countries in the world against COVID-19, with more than 90% of people over 16 having received two doses.
Despite record cases, Australians are hopeful that hospitals won’t be under extreme pressure from the new strain, which they say appears to be less severe than the other variants.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed never to return to lockdowns, saying Australians must now take personal responsibility for managing their health.
The number of people admitted to hospitals is steadily increasing, but remains well below that of the Delta epidemics.
Airlines in Australia have canceled or postponed flights due to frontline staff forced into self-isolation due to possible exposures to the virus.
(With contributions from agencies)