Signs of Omicron Peaking in Eastern States: Australian Health Minister

Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.
January 15, 2022Updated: January 15, 2022

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt says there are clear signs that the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is peaking in some east coast states.

His prediction came as tens of thousands of Australians continued to be struck by the highly infectious strain and the death toll continued to climb.

“There are signs that NSW in particular and the ACT may be peaking,” Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

“I won’t call it as having reached it yet, but in particular what we’ve seen, is that all of these jurisdictions have so far significantly undershot the hospitalisation, ICU and ventilation predictions that were made at the outset.”

NSW announced another 34,660 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday along with a further 20 virus-related deaths.

Victoria posted 28,128 new COVID-19 infections and another 13 deaths, while Queensland reported 17,455 cases and three deaths.

The death toll also rose in the ACT, where there were two fatalities alongside 1316 new cases, while Tasmania has 825 new cases.

While Hunt provided some hope for the future, two-thirds of parents in a survey still hold the belief that it is unsafe for their children to return to classrooms in a few weeks time when the country is in the middle of the Omicron outbreak.

Just one-in-five parents were happy to let their children go back to school, according to a national survey by parent advocacy group, The Parenthood, in a poll of 3043 families.

More than half of respondents (56 percent) said school should be delayed to allow precautions to be taken around the provision of masks, rapid antigen tests, and ventilation.

A similar proportion (52 percent) said the peak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 should be allowed to pass, while 51 percent said schools should stay closed to ensure more children can be vaccinated.

“In the weeks since the 2021 school year ended the COVID picture around the country has changed dramatically,” The Parenthood’s executive director Georgie Dent said.

“Having spent almost two years heeding the strict message that keeping kids home was the best way to keep them and others safe from this virus, it is not surprising that against a backdrop of surging cases parents aren’t feeling confident or certain that returning as planned makes sense.”

National cabinet has decided to open schools in states and territories as planned, although Queensland has delayed its opening by two weeks due to local circumstances, as agreed by national cabinet.

Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy warned the national cabinet last week that 10 percent of the workforce could be absent because of COVID at any one time, which would increase by a further five percent if schools stay closed.

Meanwhile, Hunt also announced A$24 million in additional funding to assist the temporary widening of telehealth consultations through GPs and other specialists due to the high infection rate from the Omicron outbreak.

The decision was widely applauded by GPs and other help groups.

The funding will also cover the continued supply of personal protective equipment, such as masks, respirators, face shields and gowns for face-to-face consultations, including patients that have tested positive through a rapid antigen test.

The latter aligns with national cabinet’s January 5 decision that RAT tests no longer need to be confirmed by a PCR test.

Hunt said telehealth had been a vital support during the pandemic, providing greater flexibility in healthcare delivery at the most critical time and continues to be a fundamental part of the pandemic response.

By Colin Brinsden

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