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Deaths mount as Omicron ‘peak’ ravages Eastern States

Deaths are mounting and hospitalisations hitting record highs as the pandemic tests the country’s health systems.

The figures come as private pathology labs send out more notifications to Victorians whose PCR tests have been deemed invalid because they are more than seven days old.

The lab said the situation arose over a backlog in tests due to “an unprecedented volume of samples enter(ing) our laboratories during the latest surge”.

The news comes after it was reported last week another Melbourne pathology lab was revealed to have decided not to process week-old samples from 7000 tests taken over the busy Christmas and new year period.

In more positive news, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had reached a 95 per cent first-dose vaccination rate against COVID-19.

“That is often referred to as a full vaccination level but we want to go further, we want to continue to encourage Australians to come forward,” Mr Hunt said.

Mr Hunt also flagged a decision on the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine – which is not yet available in Australia – is expected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration “in the coming 10 days”.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said while there is hope the latest Omicron outbreak had peaked for certain States, WA – particular – “is another story”.

“When they do start to get cases it will be later on. But for most of the rest of Australia, we are still on that upward curve, we may be plateauing and then there is a downswing of cases after that,” he said.

An update on the latest COVID status for WA is expected later today.

Read the latest State-by-State developments:

Victoria has 25,526 COVID cases, 23 deaths

Victoria has recorded 25,526 new COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths, as more residents are told their PCR tests are invalid after waiting more than seven days.

The new infections include 12,857 from rapid antigen tests and 12,669 from PCR tests, the State health department confirmed on Saturday.

There are a record 1054 patients in hospital, up 78 from Friday, including 115 in intensive care of whom 30 are on a ventilator.

The State is managing 227,105 active cases.

The figures come as private pathology labs send out more notifications to Victorians whose PCR tests have been deemed invalid because they are more than seven days old.

“Impacted patients will be notified via text message in the near future. We regret the inconvenience caused to our patients by the delay in results,“ Australian Clinical Labs said in an update published on Friday.

“Our laboratory staff are doing all they can in getting through the current backlog, and like all pathology companies in Victoria, we have seen an unprecedented volume of samples enter our laboratories during the latest surge.”

One Melbourne woman, who was tested on January 5, received the memo on Friday evening.

ACL recommended she use a rapid antigen test or self-quarantine for seven days post her first test date, which has already passed.

The company was one of four private pathology providers to suspend operations across 54 Victorian testing sites earlier this month to allow their labs to catch up on the test backlog.

Another of the quartet, Melbourne Pathology, last week decided not to process week-old samples from 7000 tests taken over the busy Christmas and new year period.

The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.

NSW posts 48,768 virus cases, 20 deaths

NSW has recorded almost 50,000 new COVID-19 cases and a further 20 deaths as the State Government extends its rental relief scheme for small businesses amid the Omicron outbreak.

Treasurer Matt Kean on Saturday announced the scheme will be extended for two months until March 13.

Commercial and retail tenants will qualify for the relief if they have an annual turnover of less than $5 million and continue to meet eligibility criteria for since discontinued JobSaver or micro-business grant programs.

Landlords will also have more time to apply for land tax relief, with applications extended until February 28 for those eligible.

It comes as 48,768 positive results were returned the 24 hours to Saturday, with just under 22,000 of them collected from rapid antigen kits although around 15,000 of these were returns from the previous seven days.

There are 2576 patients in NSW hospitals, up on the 2525 reported on Friday. Of them, 193 are in intensive care and 58 need ventilation. During the Delta peak in September, there were 244 people in ICU.

The State is 93.8 per cent double dosed for eligible residents 16 or over.

More than 24 per cent have also had a booster, while 8.9 per cent of children aged five to 11 have received their first jab.

While more people are dying with the virus in NSW than at any other time during the pandemic authorities maintain things are going better than expected and predict the outbreak will soon peak.

Saturday’s fatalities bring the tally to 146 deaths reported over the past eight days, though a portion of those are understood to be historic and were classified following coronial investigations.

The latest 11 men and nine women to die were mostly aged in their 80s and 90s. Sixteen were vaccinated and four not.

Worst case scenario modelling suggests 6000 people could be in hospital at the peak of the outbreak, with 10 per cent in intensive care.

However, even best case scenario predictions paint a grimmer picture than reality, estimating 3158 people would be in hospital.

Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday said the state had “a difficult few weeks ahead” but things not currently being as bad as feared was “very reassuring and encouraging”.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant warned about half the people in NSW could become infected during the Omicron wave, though some would be asymptomatic and may never even know they had contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, the number of positive cases among detainees at Villawood detention centre has at least tripled since the confirmation of six cases in an outbreak on Tuesday.

However, reports from inside the facility suggest the case number could be as high as 68.

Tasmania posts 1139 new COVID-19 cases

Tasmania has reported 1139 new coronavirus cases, as overall active infection numbers in the State drop for a third straight day.

Twenty-two people with COVID-19 are in hospital, with 10 of those being treated specifically for virus symptoms. One person is in intensive care.

The other 12 people in hospital have COVID-19 but are being treated for unrelated medical conditions.

The new infections have come from 884 self-reported rapid antigen tests and 255 PCR tests.

Tasmania’s health department says 1470 people have been released from isolation in the past 24 hours.

It means there are 7108 reported active cases, down from 7439 on Friday and 7969 on Thursday.

Thirty cases are staying in community management facilities and 300 people are using COVID-at-home care.

It comes as elective surgery and other services at a hospital in northwest Tasmania are being reduced due to COVID-caused staff shortages.

COVID ACROSS AUSTRALIA

  • TOTAL NEW CASES – 75,433 (excl. QLD, SA, ACT, NT and WA)
  • TOTAL NEW DEATHS – 43 (excl. QLD, SA, ACT, NT and WA)
  • VIC – 25,526 new cases, 23 deaths
  • NSW – 48,768 new cases, 20 deaths
  • QLD – TBA
  • SA – TBA
  • TAS – 1139 new cases
  • ACT – TBA
  • NT – TBA
  • WA – TBA

With AAP

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