Australia’s new COVID-19 cases hit record high

Patrons dine-in at a bar by the harbour in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) regulations easing, following an extended lockdown to curb an outbreak, in Sydney, Australia, October 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy/File Photo

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MELBOURNE, Dec 18 (Reuters) – Australia reported record high new COVID-19 cases on Saturday for a third day, with outbreaks growing in the two most populous states, however Prime Minister Scott Morrison continued to downplay the risks as the country eases pandemic curbs.

New South Wales state reported 2,482 new cases, Victoria state reported 1,504 new cases and Queensland state reported 31 new cases on Saturday, together topping Austalia’s previous high of 3,820 cases a day earlier.

Morrison reiterated on Saturday the focus should be on hospitalisations and cases in intensive care and on ventilators rather than actual case numbers as the country learns to live with the virus.

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So far, he said the rising case numbers in New South Wales were not translating into pressure on hospitals, with only 26 people in intensive care.

“I wouldn’t agree that Australians are complacent about it. We take this incredibly seriously. It’s best addressed with a calm head and a clear plan,” Morrison said at a media conference in Hobart in the island state of Tasmania.

He said Australia was not in the same situation as the United Kingdom, Europe or North America, where cases are soaring.

In the latest easing of pandemic curbs, fully vaccinated international travelers arriving in Sydney and Melbourne will no longer need to isolate for 72 hours, the governments of New South Wales and Victoria said on Friday.

Incoming travelers will still need to get a PCR test within 24 hours of arriving, but only need to isolate until they receive a negative test result.

“We know it has been a challenging time for international travel with new rules and the emergence of the Omicron variant, but this announcement is about simplifying the process and making sure Australia’s two biggest cities have a consistent approach,” New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said in a statement.

Australia slammed its borders shut soon after the pandemic hit in 2020, which kept COVID-19 cases down relative to other rich nations. The country has so far recorded about 239,000 cases and about 2,130 deaths.

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Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry

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