Australia records 49 further COVID-19 deaths as hospitalisations grow across the country

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the milestone for first vaccine doses for Australians aged 16 and older surpassed “almost all possible predictions that were made at the outset of the pandemic”.

“That is often referred to as a full vaccination level but we want to go further, we want to continue to encourage Australians to come forward,” Mr Hunt told reporters on Saturday.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Saturday there were “signs for hope” the outbreak in NSW, as well as those in Victoria and the ACT, have peaked.

“All predictions and now the actual forecasting based on actual numbers of cases, particularly in NSW but also in Victoria and ACT, leads me to believe that we are close to the peak of this wave in terms of cases,” he told reporters, noting cases are likely to be going under-reported.

However, Professor Kelly noted the situation in Western Australia “is another story”.

“When they do start to get cases it will be later on. But for most of the rest of Australia, we are still on that upward curve, we may be plateauing and then there is a downswing of cases after that,” he said.

NSW posts 20 new deaths

NSW posted 20 new deaths and 48,768 new cases on Saturday – 21,748 via rapid antigen tests and 27,020 through PCR tests. 

There are currently 2,576 patients in hospitals, up from 2,525 on Friday.

There has been a slight increase in the number of people admitted to ICU, too, with 193 patients currently requiring intensive care, up from 184 on Friday.

While more people are dying with coronavirus in NSW than at any other time during the pandemic, authorities maintain things are going better than expected and predict the outbreak will soon peak.

Worst-case-scenario modelling suggested 6,000 people could be in hospital at the peak of the outbreak, with 10 per cent of them in intensive care.

Even the best-case-scenario predictions paint a grimmer picture than the current reality, estimating 3,158 people would be in hospital.

Premier Dominic Perrottet on Friday said the state had “a difficult few weeks ahead” but things not currently being as bad as feared was “very reassuring and encouraging”. Opposition Leader Chris Minns criticised the government for not preparing in December for the expected surge in cases.

Victoria reports 23 deaths

Victoria, meanwhile, reported 23 deaths and 25,526 new cases on Saturday – 12,857 via rapid antigen tests and 12,669 through PCR tests.

Currently, there are 227,105 active cases – 1,054 in hospitals and 115 in ICU.

The number of Victorians 18 and over who have received their booster vaccine shot has risen to 22 per cent.

The figures come as private pathology labs send out more notifications to Victorians whose PCR tests have been deemed invalid because they are more than seven days old.

“Impacted patients will be notified via text message in the near future. We regret the inconvenience caused to our patients by the delay in results,” Australian Clinical Labs said in an update published on Friday.

“Our laboratory staff are doing all they can in getting through the current backlog, and like all pathology companies in Victoria, we have seen an unprecedented volume of samples enter our laboratories during the latest surge.”

Person in 20s dies in Queensland

Queensland has announced further six COVID-related deaths, including one person in their 20s, and 19,709 cases. 

The other deaths included one person in their 70s, two in their 80s and two in their 90s.

There are 649 people in hospital, including 46 in intensive care. Fourteen people are ventilated.

Another 1,320 cases in ACT

The ACT reported 1,320 new cases on Saturday, up from the 1,125 infections that were posted on Friday.

Among the latest cases, 691 people tested positive on a RAT, while 629 tested positive via PCR.

There are 30 people in hospitals in the ACT currently, with three in ICU and three requiring ventilators.

Tasmania reports 1,139 infections

Tasmania reported 1,139 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, as overall active infection numbers in the state drop for a third straight day.

Twenty-two people with COVID-19 are in hospital, with 10 of those being treated specifically for virus symptoms. One person is in intensive care.

The other 12 people in hospital have COVID-19 but are being treated for unrelated medical conditions.

The new infections have come from 884 self-reported rapid antigen tests and 255 PCR tests.

Tasmania’s health department says 1,470 people have been released from isolation in the past 24 hours. It means there are 7108 reported active cases, down from 7,439 on Friday and 7,969 on Thursday.

It comes as elective surgery and other services at a hospital in northwest Tasmania are being reduced due to COVID-caused staff shortages.

More than 90 staff at the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie are unable to work having either caught the virus or been forced to isolate as a close contact.

Additional reporting by AAP.

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