Australian COVID-19 infections are continuing to surge due to a sub-variant of the Omicron strain, as health authorities warn cases won’t peak until mid-April.
Despite daily case numbers reaching levels experienced during the height of the Omicron wave this summer, some states have moved to ease restrictions.
In Queensland, people who have recently recovered from the virus will now be considered a “cleared case”, and will not have to go into isolation for 12 weeks, even if they are deemed a close contact or experience symptoms.
Vaccination mandates have been removed for transport workers and those in the education sector in SA following staff shortages.
As cases in WA reach record levels, capacity limits on venues in the state have also been eased.
On Thursday, more than 59,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported across the country.
Of the new cases, there were 22,107 in NSW, 11,292 in Victoria, 9727 in Western Australia, 7289 in Queensland, 5061 in South Australia, 2478 in Tasmania, 1194 in the ACT and 526 in the Northern Territory.
Thursday also saw one of the highest daily fatality counts in recent weeks with 32 deaths, including 17 in NSW, five in Queensland, four in Victoria, three in WA, two in the ACT and one in the NT.
It comes as figures reported to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee noted the number of daily COVID-19 cases increased by more than 76 per cent between March 11 and March 23, while hospitalisations from the virus rose by almost 25 per cent in the same time period.
However, in the two-week period, deaths were down by seven per cent, and the number of patients in ICU had decreased by five per cent nationally.
In a statement, the committee said the increase was driven by a more transmissible sub-variant of Omicron.
“These trends are aligned with the experience reported internationally,” the statement said.
“We also note forecasting which suggests this current wave will peak around mid-April in many jurisdictions.”
The committee also warned of challenges to the country’s health system ahead of winter, when a further surge of coronavirus cases is expected.
“These challenges are likely to be offset by increasing population level immunity from vaccination and natural infection and the availability of treatments, which will likely mitigate against high hospital demand,” the committee said.
“COVID-19 and influenza-related absenteeism in the health system will likely be significant.”