Sydney hospitals fight coronavirus as daily infections hit record


  • Australia daily cases just below 1,000, new pandemic high
  • Federal government urges states to stick to reopening plans
  • One third in NSW fully vaccinated

SYDNEY, Aug. 25 (Reuters) – COVID-19 infections in Sydney hit a daily record high on Wednesday, putting parts of the healthcare system under pressure, officials said, calling for more vaccinations to stem the tide of hospital admissions.

Despite two months of closure in Sydney, the state of New South Wales (NSW) has reported 919 new cases amid a growing Delta variant outbreak, bringing Australia’s daily case count to a new pandemic peak just below 1,000. A total of 113 people in the state are in intensive care, 98 of them unvaccinated.

“This highlights (…) the fact that immunization is key. We need to increase these levels of immunization coverage,” Kerry Chant, NSW chief health officer, said at a press briefing. televised in Sydney, the state capital.

Australia, struggling to control a third wave of coronavirus, has locked up more than half of its 25 million people, including its largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and is accelerating an initially slow vaccine rollout.

About 31% of people over 16 were fully vaccinated, while 54% received at least one dose.

Westmead Hospital, one of the largest in Sydney’s hard-hit western suburbs, has reduced ambulance arrivals for COVID-19 patients for 24 hours and transferred critical patients to other hospitals, showed a internal note shared on Twitter by NSW lawmaker Cate Faehrmann.

Asked about the changes, state health minister Brad Hazzard acknowledged the health system was operating under pressure, but said the situation was still manageable.

“Westmead Hospital is typical of the types of pressures you would expect when you have a large hospital in the midst of the epicenter of the virus outbreak,” he said. About 80% of the cases have been detected in western Sydney.

In neighboring Victoria, new cases fell for a second day in a row to 45, down from 50 a day earlier, as authorities sought to increase the vaccine rollout by allowing anyone over 16 to take appointment from Wednesday.

REOPENING PLANS

The spike in cases comes as the Australian federal government urged states to stick to a four-step national reopening plan agreed to last month, with some suggesting delays given the still high number of new cases daily to Sydney.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned heads of state on Wednesday that current emergency economic supports could be withdrawn when the country achieves a 70-80% COVID-19 vaccination rate, even if states and territories decide to maintain border controls.

“Prime ministers and chief ministers should not be expected to continue our emergency economic support on the current scale,” Frydenberg told broadcaster Seven News.

Despite the recent outbreaks in Delta, the number of coronaviruses in Australia is still relatively low, with just over 46,600 cases and 986 deaths. Deaths from the latest outbreak have jumped to 76, although the death rate has slowed from last year.

Virus-free Queensland said it will suspend arrivals from NSW and Victoria states and the Australian Capital Territory for two weeks from Wednesday to help ease pressure on its hotel quarantine system.

($ 1 = 1.3782 Australian dollars)

Report by Renju José; edited by Jane Wardell and Richard Pullin

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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