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Australia reported one of the highest daily death rates from the novel coronavirus on Thursday as authorities scrambled to get ahead of the highly contagious variant of the virus, with hospitalisations approaching an all-time high.
The BA.4/5 variant effectively evades immune protection against vaccination or prior infection, and has sparked a new wave of infections globally.
Australia reported its highest daily figures since the first wave of Omicron earlier this year, with 89 coronavirus deaths on Thursday and 90 on Wednesday. There were just over 55,600 new cases recorded on Thursday, the highest level since May 18.
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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the head of state and federal health officials were not recommending mandatory mask wearing in indoor wards, despite calls from some doctors to do so.
In the early days of the pandemic, Australia avoided the high death tolls seen in other countries, thanks in large part to a high degree of public compliance with strict social distancing restrictions.
But the public has shown little interest in resuming such measures in response to the recent spike in infections, and Albanese has resisted pressure from some health experts to make masks mandatory.
“There’s no point in having a search warrant unless it’s enforced,” Albanese told ABC radio.
Health officials also need to consider the impact of strict restrictions on mental health, he said.
The latest wave of Omicron has pushed the number of COVID-19 patients in Australian hospitals to the peak reached in January. About 5,350 patients are hospitalized, and several states are grappling with record numbers of hospital admissions.
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Authorities have urged businesses to let employees work from home and advised people to get vaccinated urgently, with only about 71% of the eligible population getting the booster. About 95% of people over the age of 16 received two doses.
Australia has reported around 9 million COVID-19 cases and 10,968 deaths since the pandemic began.