Two Australian states log record coronavirus cases, but hospitalizations remain low
Australia’s Victoria and Queensland states reported record levels of new daily coronavirus infections Tuesday as pressure on testing centers prompted calls for wider use of rapid antigen tests.
Queensland reported 1,158 cases, the first time the state has seen more than 1,000 cases in a day, but hospitalizations remained low. The state has more than 4,000 active cases, of which 257 are reported to be the Omicron variant.
State Health Minister Yvette D’Ath announced Tuesday that travelers from out of state no longer will have to have a PCR test five days after arrival. D’Ath said that, of the tens of thousands who had crossed the state’s borders recently, only 0.6% had tested positive on Day 5.
“Anyone who is waiting in lines now for the Day 5 test ... will not be required to get Day 5 tests from now,” she said. “We thank everyone for doing the right thing. We have made sure we’ve done this in a safe and responsible way.”
Victoria state reported 2,738 new cases Tuesday, beating the previous state record of 2,297 cases in mid-October.
Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, saw a slight fall in case numbers, but that corresponded with fewer tests around Christmas Day. The state reported 6,062 new infections Tuesday, down from 6,324 a day earlier.
Sydney’s international airport has come alive with tears, embraces and laughter as Australia’s border opened for the first time in 20 months.
New South Wales Heath Minister Brad Hazzard said the requirement for travelers to Queensland to have a negative PCR test 72 hours before departure was putting unnecessary strain on testing facilities. He said that in enforcing the requirement, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was “perverting the purposes of pathology testing.”
“If Queensland thinks people are arriving free of COVID, that’s not necessarily true,” Hazzard said. “These tests have been done three or four days before arriving. It’s counterproductive.
“This rule is contributing to the breakdown of the biggest pathology system in the country. We are not getting the turnaround times we need.”
Long lines were reported at testing centers around Sydney on Tuesday.
Innova Medical Group in Pasadena secured contracts worth at least $2.7 billion selling Chinese-made antigen tests to the U.K. government despite questions over their accuracy.
Australian federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has called for rapid antigen tests to replace PCR tests for most interstate travelers, to relieve pressure on testing centers.
“Using that rapid antigen test ahead of interstate travel is a better approach than the more expensive and time-consuming PCR test,” Frydenberg told Australian television. “I think that’s a sensible balance recognizing that people want some level of surety about their health status before they travel.
“But at the same time they want to avoid the long queues and long waiting times coming with the PCR tests.”
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