Coronavirus cases surged across Australia on Wednesday as an outbreak of the omicron variant spread, with new infections in Sydney and surrounding parts of New South Wales state skyrocketing to more than 11,000, up from 6,000 a day earlier.
Victoria state also reported a record 3,700 cases, up by more than 1,000 from the previous record set a day earlier.
More than three-quarters of Australians are fully vaccinated, and just how deadly the latest outbreak will prove remains to be seen.
Australia has so far avoided the worst ravages of the pandemic, reporting a total of 2,200 virus deaths among its population of 26 million.
On Wednesday, New South Wales — Australia’s most populous state — reported three new virus deaths and 625 hospitalizations, including 61 patients in intensive care. Victoria reported four new deaths and 397 hospitalizations, including 62 in intensive care.
Testing centers have been unable to keep up with a surge in demand.
Thousands of people across New South Wales have waited for hours this week to be tested. Some were travelers who were required to have a negative PCR test before arriving in Queensland.
But under pressure to ease that requirement, Queensland’s premier said Wednesday it will accept rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests for travelers from interstate hotspots from January 1.
The outbreak was also contributing to a shortage of blood donations and an urgent call for donors to step up.
Testing and quarantining requirements prompted by the outbreak, combined with the holiday season, were creating a “perfect storm” of cancellations, said Red Cross Lifeblood donor center network head Cath Stone.
“More than half of all appointments are not being attended, which means we need more donors to roll up their sleeves and take the place of those who can’t donate,” Stone said.