Australia has recorded its deadliest day since the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago, with 74 fatalities confirmed in the latest reporting period.
NSW registered a one-day record of 36 deaths, along with Queensland which had 16, more than double its previous high, while Victoria reported 22.
The previous one-day high for COVID-related deaths nationally was set on January 13, when 57 fatalities were reported.
The figures come as unions threaten strike action over concerns surrounding worker access to rapid antigen tests.
Following an emergency meeting of the Australian Council of Trade Unions on Monday, secretary Sally McManus said safety protections for employees needed to be guaranteed during the Omicron outbreak.
“At the moment, unfortunately, we’re seeing some employers try to force COVID-positive people to go to work,” she told the ABC on Tuesday.
“That’s absolutely a red line, we must keep people safe during the pandemic, not just for them and their co-workers, (it’s) about the whole community.”
The unions have called for rapid antigen tests to be made free for workers to ease pressure on businesses.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said rapid antigen tests should be distributed for free across the country in order to keep people safe.
“Failure to have rapid antigen tests in good supply and availability to all meant economic constraint,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
“It’s extraordinary that three years into the pandemic it’s easier in some communities to catch COVID than to catch a RAT.”
However, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said strike threats from unions over rapid test supply were stoking fear during the pandemic.
“It’s exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time for the economy and for people’s jobs — it’s putting workers last and not first, and damaging job prospects,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky News.
“It’s not a choice between one person’s job and one person’s health — what we’re trying to do is to protect jobs and use the best medical advice to do so.”
As students get set to return, NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said free rapid tests would be rolled out to all schools across the state as part of COVID-safe plans.
Mr Albanese said a rapid antigen test approach to schools was a sensible approach.
“We want schools to go back when they’re safe, and what’s important with these measures is that we take the health advice,” he said.
“It’s common sense to use rapid antigen tests to keep activity going.”
NSW registered 29,830 new cases of COVID-19, with 13,763 coming from rapid tests and 16,067 from PCR tests.
In Victoria, there were 20,180 cases, with PCRs making up more than 8000 cases while more than 11,000 came from rapid tests.
There were 15,962 cases in Queensland, while 1310 were registered in Tasmania on Tuesday.
More than one-in-four Australians over the age of 18 have had their booster shot and one-in-seven aged between five and 11 were jabbed in the first week of eligibility.