Australia: Omicron death, false negative COVID results

Australian authorities remain staunch in their plans to reopen the country despite new restrictions in some states.

Hospital data in Australia's New South Wales is being closely watched for clues about the Omicron variant [Saeed Khan/AFP)

Australia has reported its first confirmed death from the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 amid another surge in daily infections.

The authorities, however, refrained from imposing new restrictions, saying hospital admission rates remained low.

The death on Monday of a man in his 80s with underlying health conditions marked a grim milestone for Australia that has had to reverse some parts of a staged reopening after nearly two years of stop-start lockdowns due to the fresh outbreak.

Omicron, which health experts say appears more contagious but less virulent than previous strains, began to spread in the country just as it lifted restrictions on most domestic borders and allowed Australians to return from overseas without quarantine, driving case numbers to the highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

The authorities gave no additional details about the Omicron death, except to say that the man caught the virus at an aged care facility and died in a Sydney hospital.

The man was among six COVID-19 deaths reported in Australia the previous day, all in the most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria, which are home to more than half the country’s 25 million population.

Wrong test results

On Sunday, a testing clinic in Sydney confirmed it wrongly told 400 people their coronavirus test result was negative on Christmas Day, when they had actually tested positive for the virus.

The SydPath clinic, based at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, sent incorrect text messages on Christmas Day telling people they did not have the virus.

On Monday, it realised it sent wrong result messages to another 995 people.

An emergency response team had been set up to investigate the cause of the mistake, which is partly being blamed on the increased pressure of processing a high number of tests.

Australian authorities have so far resisted a return to lockdown in the face of surging case numbers but have reinstated some restrictions.

On Monday, New South Wales again made it compulsory to check into public venues with QR codes, while many states have brought back mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public places.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies