Exhausted doctors “don’t have a lot of choice” but to agree with close contacts of COVID cases returning to work in NSW as hospitalisations rose to 901 in another day of record infections.
To ensure hospitals can cope, asymptomatic health workers who are a close contact of a positive case will be permitted to leave isolation in “exceptional circumstances” to attend work.
It comes as NSW reported 22,577 COVID cases and four deaths on the first day of the new year, with 71 people in intensive care as hospitalisations doubled in a week.
Premier Dominic Perrottet continues to focus on hospitalisation and ICU numbers rather than daily case tallies.
But with around 2000 healthcare staff per day day off work because of COVID rules, the union representing doctors said pressure on the NSW system was enormous.
Allowing employees back to work would help prevent the system from collapsing, Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (ASMOF) NSW president Dr Tony Sara told the ABC.
“We’re loading our hospitals with COVID-positive patients who need to be in hospital,” said Dr Sara.
“We therefore had to reduce the ISO requirements, we don’t agree with it but essentially if the health system is not to collapse then ourselves, the nurses and the HSU [Health Service Union] — we don’t have a lot of choice but to agree.
“We have to make sure we supply the required services to normal patients as well as COVID patients.”
The measures were the latest aimed at mitigating the impact of Omicron’s fast spread as daily case numbers are expected to continue breaking records across Australia as we enter 2022.
Victoria recorded another 7442 COVID-19 infections for the final day of 2021, a jump of more than 1500 cases on Friday’s 5919 infections.
Meanwhile Queenslanders will have to wear masks indoors after the state reported 2266 new COVID-19 cases on New Year’s Day.
Masks were previously only required indoors at supermarkets, shops, on public transport and ride share as well as airports and planes, cinemas and theatres in Queensland.
From Sunday they will also be required at workplaces unless unsafe to do so, pubs, clubs and cafes unless when seated, indoor stadiums and sport arenas, libraries, hair dressers and nail salons and medical centre waiting areas.
Queenslanders were also urged to return to work-from-home arrangements where possible.
In WA, authorities are investigating a private New Year’s Eve party at a Perth restaurant and bar which they allege breached COVID guidelines.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said officers had to climb walls to gain entry to The George where several hundred people were partying and dancing without masks.
WA has also moved both Tasmania and the ACT from medium risk to high risk.
From Monday, anyone entering the state from the ACT or Tasmania must be fully vaccinated, take a PCR test within 24 hours of arrival and take another test on day 12 of their 14-day self-isolation.
They must also use the G2G Now app while in quarantine.
In Tasmania, Premier Peter Gutwein said with a highly vaccinated population the state would not be heading into lockdown or closing its borders because of the climbing case numbers.
However, he did advise caution to travellers, reminding Tasmanians and visitors if they contracted the virus or became a close contact while away, they would have to isolate at their own cost.
Tasmania jumped from 520 active COVID-19 cases to 938 on New Year’s Day.
The ACT reported 448 new cases, bringing its active total 1479.
Ten children are among the 71 people in South Australian hospitals being treated for COVID-19, as the state starts the New Year with 2100 new infections.
The state had 40 patients in hospital the day before.
The Northern Territory has recorded 54 new COVID-19 cases after rolling out a new indoor mask mandate, while Western Australia has detected two new local COVID-19 cases linked to an infected French backpacker who travelled from Queensland.