'No silver bullets': Australia reports record high in COVID-19 cases; hospitalisations surge
For the third day in a row, Australia's COVID-19 cases surpassed their daily record high, further straining hospital resources and testing facilities as public anger grows over the response to the speedy response to the rapidly spreading Omicron outbreak.
New South Wales and Victoria, the most populous states in the country, reported 64,774 new cases, a record number. The number easily exceeded the previous day's national total of 47,800.
The number of Omicron infections has risen more than 50 times from around 1,200 since late November when the first case was detected in the country.
Hospital admissions in New South Wales and Victoria increased by 10 per cent over the previous day and the number is expected to rise even further over the next few weeks.
"We have got some challenging weeks ahead of us," NSW Deputy Health Secretary Susan Pearce told reporters.
In recent weeks, there has been an explosion of cases which has led to long lines at publicly-funded PCR testing centres. As a result, authorities encouraged people to only seek PCRs if asymptomatic. This led to a shortage of rapid antigen tests, which can be performed at home but must be purchased privately.
Under pressure as an election year begins, Scott Morrison, leader of the centre-right Liberal-National Party coalition, has attempted to reassure voters that the situation is under control while keeping the purse strings tightly cinched.
"You've just got to work the problem, work it together and push through."
Morrison, who must call an election before May, has ruled out subsidising the majority of at-home testing kits, citing the need for individual responsibility.
However, state leaders are expected to press Morrison to subsidise rapid antigen tests at Wednesday's cabinet meeting.
"There are no silver bullets here," Morrison told reporters ahead of a meeting of the national cabinet, the group of federal and state and territory leaders tasked with handling the pandemic.
As if long queues at public testing centres and a lack of at-home testing weren't bad enough, news broke that tennis world number one Novak Djokovic had been given a medical exemption to enter the country.
There have also been strong criticisms of the decision to grant Djokovic, who has refused to reveal his vaccination status but previously stated his objection to mandatory vaccines, a medical exemption for the Australian Open tennis tournament.
In addition to social media outrage, medical professionals, lawmakers, and other sports people have also criticised the decision.
The coronavirus pandemic in Australia has led to more than 612,000 cases and 2,290 deaths, with more than half of those infections occurring over the past two weeks.