A day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison rejected lockdowns or mask mandates for the entire country to slow the spread of the omicron variant, Australia reported a major spike in coronavirus infections on Thursday, prompting the worst-affected state of New South Wales to reimpose mask-wearing indoors.
New South Wales registered 5,715 new cases, up from 3,763 on Wednesday and nearly as many as Australia as a whole. One death was also reported in New South Wales.
In New South Wales hospitals, 347 persons were admitted, up from 302 the day before, while 45 were admitted to intensive care units, up from 40. On Thursday, Victoria state reported 2,005 new illnesses and 10 fatalities, indicating a dramatic surge.
Morrison called a Cabinet meeting with the leaders of Australia’s states and territory on Wednesday. Lockdowns and legally mandated mask restrictions are not being discussed, he later told reporters.
The Australian Technical Advise Group on Immunization will decide whether the time between second vaccine doses and booster shots will be decreased.
“My message is to stay calm, get your booster, follow the common sense behavioural measures as you’re going into Christmas and we look forward to that,” Morrison said, adding, “Australians have worked very hard to have this Chrismas together and we want to protect that.”
“In the face of growing cases, New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet caved to criticism from medical experts and others and announced that masks must be worn in indoor settings starting at midnight on Thursday. Perrottet also announced the reintroduction of interior density limits, allowing only one person per two square meters.”
“We’ve always said as we have moved through this that we will monitor the situation and the evidence in front of us,” Perrottet added.
“The key indicators to us are not the case numbers but rather ICU numbers, hospitalisations and in addition to that, importantly, the ability of our health care workers here in our state to provide the care that people need if they’re seriously ill as they come into the hospital system.” The new requirements, which will be in effect until January 27, are described by Perrottet as’modest’ and careful.
Early Thursday, Victoria state expanded existing restrictions to require residents above the age of eight to wear masks in hospitality, entertainment, and business situations. The new rules will take effect at 12 a.m. on Thursday.
Acting Premier James Merlino of Victoria said, “This is a sensible response which will allow businesses to stay open, bars and restaurants to continue to stay open and major events to go ahead,” ? Masks are a low-cost and effective technique to keep the community healthy. Experts in public health have long advocated for it.” Mask-wearing and other laws, according to Australia’s federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, are a matter for states and territories to decide on their own.
“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 added.