SYDNEY – Pressure grew on Australia’s health system on Wednesday as new COVID-19 case numbers hit a record for the third consecutive day, straining hospitals and overrun testing facilities.
Nearly 53,000 new cases were reported across New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, with both clocking fresh one-day highs and exceeding Tuesday’s national tally of around 47,800.
People admitted to hospital in both states rose 10% over the previous day, as authorities warned those numbers would rise further over the next several weeks.
“We have got some challenging weeks ahead of us,” New South Wales Deputy Health Secretary Susan Pearce told reporters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under mounting pressure over testing delays and stock shortages, will look to take measures to diffuse the crisis when he meets state and territory leaders later in the day.
The rapid surge in cases in recent weeks, fuelled by the Omicron variant, has led to long lines at publicly-funded PCR testing facilities.
That prompted authorities to ask people to only seek public testing if showing symptoms, which in turn led to a shortage of rapid antigen tests, which can be used at home but must be purchased privately.
Morrison, who must call a federal election before May, has ruled out subsidising the majority of the at-home testing kits, citing a heightened role for “personal responsibility”.
New South Wales officials said they had procured millions of the rapid antigen tests and were pressing the federal government for an agreement to subsidise them. Victoria has ordered an additional 10 million tests, with the first batch due to arrive in the next few days.
Elsewhere in Australia, Tasmania reported 867 new cases, while other states are due to report their numbers later in the day.
The country has recorded more than 600,000 cases and 2,290 deaths since the pandemic began, with more than half of those infections reported over the past two weeks.