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Australia Relaxes COVID-19 Restrictions as Case Numbers Soar  


Health officials collect COVID-19 swab tests at a drive-through testing site on Bondi beach in Sydney on Dec. 15, 2021, as rapidly-growing Omicron and Delta clusters brought more than 2,700 new cases nationally.

Australia’s most populous state is being urged to reintroduce COVID-19 restrictions after seeing a record number of new infections.

New South Wales is relaxing mask and social distancing rules at the same time as coronavirus infections are hitting record numbers.

On Monday, Australia’s most populous state recorded 2,500 new cases over a 24-hour period. Health officials believe the omicron variant “likely accounts for the majority” of those infections. Hospital admissions increased by more than 15% in the same period. Of the 33 people in the state’s intensive care units, 26 are unvaccinated, according to the health department.

After a week in which the number of cases rose, Australia’s political leaders are urging calm and are promising that widespread lockdowns, which have been a feature of the pandemic, will not be reimposed over the holiday season.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet says his government is taking a sensible approach.

“Every day we look at the numbers that are in front of us, the hospitalizations and the ICU (intensive care unit) presentations and will continue to take a balanced, proportionate and measured response,” Perrottet said.

The Australian Medical Association said the decision to ease long-standing disease-control measures was “bizarre timing.”

Nancy Baxter, a clinical epidemiologist and head of the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health at the University of Melbourne, believes it’s too early to relax restrictions.

“Basically, we have a big gamble on this being an incredibly mild variant of COVID because even if it is a bit milder, it is more transmissible and it transmits amongst the vaccinated. So, even if it is a bit milder, this is going to be a huge problem for our hospitals and health care systems. When you look at New South Wales, they continued with the relaxation they had planned before basically ignoring the fact that the rules of the game had changed,” Baxter said.

Nationally, ninety percent of eligible Australians are fully vaccinated, according to the health department, and the authorities are urging the community to get a third booster.

Australia has 250,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, since the start of the pandemic. About 2,100 people have died.

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