COVID cases pass 500k as infections surge

(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Australia has passed the grim milestone of more than 500,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

The mark was passed on Tuesday after both NSW and Victoria registered record daily case numbers.

NSW had 23,131 new cases, with a further two deaths.

The state has 1344 patients in hospital, up by 139 from the day before, with 105 in intensive care, up by 10.

There were 14,020 cases in Victoria, the first time the state has recorded a one-day total of above 10,000.

There were another two deaths in the state, with 516 patients in hospital – a rise of 25 – while there are four more patients in intensive care, taking the total to 108.

The rise in cases comes as Scott Morrison comes under increasing pressure to make rapid antigen tests free, as widespread shortages continue.

As people struggle to get a rapid test, leading to long queues at PCR testing sites, medical experts have slammed government inaction to secure enough tests to meet demand.

Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy said there didn’t appear to be a plan from the government surrounding rapid tests.

“There is an inability to supply at the critical moment and there is a lack of equity of access and it is costing so much,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“The case numbers from Omicron is way outside those of Delta … these numbers are way outside of what people were expecting and this day was always going to come.

“We need rapid antigen tests in play and in people’s hands.”

Labor’s Linda Burney said the government failed to adequately supply people with rapid tests as cases surge.

“I have never seen such a bungled policy stuff up in my life,” she told the ABC.

“If people need the test and they are required to have it, then they should be able to have it at an affordable price and they should be able to access it.”

But Nationals senator Matt Canavan has levelled blame at the Therapeutic Goods Administration, saying questions needed to be asked about why rapid tests were not approved for use until two months ago.

“The hold up was at the feet of the TGA,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“We should have been better prepared for this.”

Senator Canavan said making the tests free would exacerbate the issue, sparking an increase in demand. 

He also said state governments were responsible for the increase in demand due to “vigorous” entry test requirements.

The rapid test shortage coincides with the expansion of the country’s booster program, with an extra four million people becoming eligible for it from Tuesday.

The gap between second and third doses has been reduced to four months, and will shorten to three at the end of January.

The head of Australia’s vaccine rollout, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, said 60 per cent of people already eligible for the third dose have received it.

“We’ve had 2.5 million people come forward for their booster … given it’s Christmas and New Year, I think that’s encouraging,” he told the Seven Network.

Children between five and 11-years-old are also set to get the vaccine from January 10.

Dr Moy said the rollout of the boosters and the start of the child vaccines would be one of the most challenging aspects of the vaccine effort.

“It’s a tight time for everyone at the moment … and there is an exhausted workforce,” he said.

Queensland had registered a record high of 4249 cases on Monday, while Tasmania had 466 and the ACT had 516.

There were 2552 cases in South Australia, 58 in the Northern Territory and two in Western Australia, according to figures published on Monday.


- Advertisement -