Australia records deadliest day of Covid pandemic as 35 cases of BA.2 Omicron variant detected

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Steven Saphore/AAP</span>
Photograph: Steven Saphore/AAP

Australia has recorded its deadliest day ever of the Covid pandemic, with 98 deaths recorded, as the first cases of the BA.2 descendant of the Omicron variant were recorded in NSW.

There are now 35 cases of BA.2 in Australia overall including in Tasmania, ACT, Queensland, WA and Victoria.

Of the new deaths, 39 were recorded in Victoria, 35 in NSW, 18 in Queensland, and one in the ACT. The previous one-day high was on 21 January, when 88 deaths were recorded.

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While overall cases are plateauing, the country’s chief nursing and midwifery officer, Prof Alison McMillan, said death rates were set to remain high for some time.

“As we have seen during the two years of the pandemic, the number of deaths associated with those cases stay higher for a longer period,” she said on Friday.
“There is a delay in the number of deaths, sadly, we have seen quite a number of deaths.”

The director of NSW Health Pathology at Westmead Hospital and immunologist, Prof Dominic Dwyer, told Guardian Australia that three cases of the BA.2 strain had been reported in NSW on Friday, and that pathologists were monitoring all Australian cases closely.

“It is mostly being seen in returning travellers,” Dwyer said. “It is unknown if it is more transmissible at this stage but that is under investigation, with the likely spread in Australia still uncertain.”

Denmark, India, UK and northern Europe have recorded the most BA.2 cases. While it looks to be outcompeting the original Omicron strain, particularly in Denmark, there is no evidence of increased severity.

It comes as the eligibility for Covid-19 booster shots were expanded to include 16 and 17-year-olds, after the medical regulator gave provisional approval for the age group to receive a third dose.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt said final approval still needs to be handed down by the country’s leading vaccine advisory group, Atagi.

“We are hoping to receive the Atagi advice within the next week, if not earlier, and if that’s a positive, we can make this available immediately,” he said.

The waiting time between second and third doses will also shorten from four months to three months from Monday, allowing more people to get the booster. However, some states and territories have already shortened the waiting time to a three-month gap.

There have been more than 7.3m boosters administered across the country, with two-thirds of those eligible having received theirs. While NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said people who had recently acquired Covid-19 should wait for four-to-six weeks after their infection to get the booster, Prof. McMillan urged people to get the third dose immediately after symptoms stopped.

“We know that an initial infection does potentially provide you with a small amount of protection from Covid, but we really don’t yet know how much,” she said. “But we do know that the booster will provide you with high levels of protection against severe disease and death.”

A recent survey from the NSW customer service department found half of people eligible for the Covid-19 booster didn’t know they were eligible for their third dose.

Meanwhile, prime minister Scott Morrison defended aged care minister Richard Colbeck, after it was revealed he chose to attend the cricket over a Covid-19 committee hearing when 40 per cent of the system was in lockdown.

Colbeck said he couldn’t attend the hearing due to diverting resources away from “urgent and critical work,” but his register of interests showed he accepted tickets to the Ashes test in Hobart for three days.

“Ministers have many responsibilities, I can understand the criticism ... I think Richard has taken that on board,” Morrison told radio station 4BC.

“I know what he does each and every day for the welfare of people living in our residential aged care facilities, and he’ll take the criticism on the chin and he’ll get back to work.”

Morrison said 86 per cent of aged care facilities had received a visit for residents to get the booster shot, with the remainder to have theirs in the next week.

There were 13,333 cases in NSW, while there were 12,755 infections recorded on Friday in Victoria. Queensland reported 9,974, the NT 940, while there were 734 and 584 new cases in the ACT and Tasmania respectively.

South Australia has announced QR code check-ins won’t be required in retail settings going forward, however they will still be required in hospitality and high-risk settings. That state recorded 1846 new cases on Friday.

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