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Cases surge across Australia as Omicron explodes

SYDNEY (AP) – Coronavirus cases surged across Australia yesterday as an outbreak of the Omicron variant exploded, prompting Prime Minister Scott Morrison to schedule an emergency national Cabinet meeting.

The surge has already overwhelmed testing stations, prompted new vaccine mandates and caused at least one state to cut back on elective surgeries.

New infections in Sydney and surrounding parts of New South Wales state skyrocketed to more than 11,000, up from 6,000 a day earlier. Victoria state also reported a record 3,700 cases, up by more than 1,000 from the previous record set on Tuesday.

Morrison said the nation’s leaders would meet ahead of schedule today.

“As Omicron continues to go forward we will see further pressures, but states and territories are working very closely on their plans to deal with those challenges,” Morrison told reporters.

Cars line up at a drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney. PHOTO: AP

He said he hoped the meeting would help give a clearer definition on what constituted a close contact and which tests should be used in different circumstances as case numbers ballooned.

Other states also reported surging numbers, with more than 1,500 new infections in Queensland, 1,400 in South Australia, 138 in the Australian Capital Territory and 55 in Tasmania. Queensland health officials said about 80 per cent of cases were the
Omicron variant.

Neighbouring New Zealand also reported its first case of possible community exposure to Omicron, when a returning traveller tested positive after leaving quarantine. However, health authorities said the traveller wasn’t considered highly infectious and there was no evidence yet of any community spread.

South Australia announced it would place limits on elective surgery and mandate vaccine booster shots for frontline healthcare workers.

State Premier Steven Marshall said South Australia would no longer be conducting screening tests for interstate travel because it doesn’t have the capacity.

“Omicron is moving too quickly,” Marshall said, adding that resources needed to be focused on the “very imminent” increase in hospitalisations.

More than three-quarters of Australians are fully vaccinated, and just how deadly the latest outbreak will prove remains to be seen.

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