Spirits unravel in Australia as COVID-19 cases soar to new heights

  • Officials predict tough weeks ahead
  • Djokovic’s travel exemption draws criticism
  • PM under pressure to subsidize rapid antigen testing

SYDNEY, Jan. 5 (Reuters) – Daily cases of COVID-19 in Australia hit a record for the third day in a row on Wednesday, straining hospital resources and testing facilities as public anger grows over the management of the rapidly evolving Omicron epidemic.

Many Australians, already unhappy with the long lines at public testing centers and the shortage of home testing, were further exasperated when news broke that world tennis number one Novak Djokovic had received medical exemption to enter the country.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under pressure at the start of the election year, sought to reassure voters that his center-right Liberal-National Party coalition was in control, while keeping tight control over the cords of the stock market.

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“There is no quick fix here,” Morrison told reporters ahead of a meeting of the national cabinet, the group of federal, state and territorial leaders charged with managing the pandemic.

“You just have to fix the problem, solve it together, and get things done.”

Authorities have reported a record 64,774 new cases, the majority in New South Wales and Victoria, the country’s most populous states. This easily topped yesterday’s national tally of around 47,800. Read more

The total number of infections has increased more than 50 times, from around 1,200 since late November, when the first case of Omicron was detected in the country.

People admitted to hospitals in NSW and Victoria are up 10% from the previous day, and authorities have warned those numbers will rise further in the coming weeks.

“We have a tough week ahead of us,” New South Wales Assistant Health Secretary Susan Pearce told reporters.

The rapid increase in cases in recent weeks has led to long lines at state-funded PCR testing centers. This prompted authorities to ask people to only look for PCR tests if they were symptomatic, leading to a shortage of rapid antigen tests, which can be used at home but must be purchased privately.

Morrison, who is due to call a federal election before May, has ruled out subsidizing the majority of home testing kits, citing an increased role for “personal accountability.”

Some heads of state are expected to pressure Morrison at Wednesday’s cabinet meeting to subsidize rapid antigen testing. Read more


Authorities also sharply criticized the decision to grant Djokovic, who refused to disclose his vaccine status but previously declared his objection to mandatory vaccines, a medical exemption to participate in the Grand Australian Open tennis tournament. Slam. Read more

The decision sparked an uproar on social media and criticism from other sportsmen, health professionals and lawmakers.

Former Australian Rules player Kevin Bartlett tweeted that Australians “were taken for fools”, while another former player Corey McKernan tweeted: “People with loved ones who are dying / some in need of ‘urgent treatment cannot enter their own state. You tell people they can not go to Coles [supermarket] or a coffee without being vaxxed, but if you’re number one in the world, do you get a pass? “

Many Australians, and particularly those in Melbourne which hosts the first major tennis tournament of the year later this month, have been subjected to a series of long lockdowns over the past two years.

The federal and state governments have strongly emphasized the importance of vaccinations. As a result, 90% of people over 16 received a double dose and a booster program is being rolled out. Read more

“This sends a terrible message to millions of people who seek to reduce the risk of # COVID19Aus for themselves and for others. #Vaccination shows respect, Novak,” tweeted Stephen Parnis, former vice president of the ‘Australian Medical Association.

Tennis Australia and the Victoria state government said Djokovic had not received any special treatment in a blind review process involving a panel of health experts.

When asked for his opinion, Morrison said the decision was up to the Victorian government.

Australia has recorded more than 612,000 cases and 2,290 deaths since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than half of these infections reported in the past two weeks.

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Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Sonali Paul in Melbourne with additional reporting by Byron Kaye; edited by Jane Wardell

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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