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Australia reports first Omicron death as daily COVID-19 cases surge

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Health care workers administer COVID-19 tests at a drive-through clinic in Sydney on Dec. 17 (Reuters Photo)

Australia has reported its first confirmed death from the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the country's most populous state amid a surge in new infections.

The first Omicron fatality was reported in New South Wales (NSW), a man in his 80s who contracted infection at an elderly care facility in Sydney, local health authorities were quoted as saying on Monday.

He was fully vaccinated but had underlying health conditions, they added, without giving further details.

"This was the first known death in New South Wales (state) linked to the Omicron variant of concern," said NSW health epidemiologist Christine Selvey in a video released by the government.

The death was reported just as the authorities lifted restrictions on most domestic borders and allowed Australians to return from overseas without mandatory quarantine.

But new measures were announced in NSW on Monday, including limits of one person per 2 square meters in bars and restaurants and required “check-ins” with QR codes in hospitality venues.

The man was among six COVID-19 deaths reported in Australia the previous day, all in NSW and Victoria, which are home to more than half of the country's 25 million population.

NSW, Victoria and Queensland states reported a combined 9,107 new cases on Monday, putting the country on track for another peak in new infections.

NSW reported 6,394 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, and 458 cases of hospitalizations, with the health minister warning that “we’re all going to get Omicron.”

“We would expect that pretty well everybody in NSW at some point will get Omicron,” Brad Hazzard said, adding that “if we’re all going to get Omicron, the best way to face it is when we have full vaccinations including our booster.”

“The challenge for us in the state is to make sure that our health system can cope with that oncoming virus that is so transmissible,” he noted.

The countrywide tally of COVID-19 infections in Australia has reached almost 10,000 cases, marking its biggest, most widespread coronavirus outbreak, with the Omicron variant found in every state and territory.


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