Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stressed Australia’s health systems are more than equipped to handle a rising number of Omicron infections.
Mr Morrison has urged people not to solely focus on case numbers, despite infections exploding in states and territories in recent days.
However, he said levels of COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive care and on ventilators remained stable following the rise in cases.
“It’s important that with the rising case numbers, we see that the severeness of this illness is already being shown to be around 75 per cent less than what we saw with Delta,” Mr Morrison told the Seven Network on Monday.
“Rising case numbers is part of the Omicron period, it’s part of the new phase of the pandemic we’re in.”
It comes as 20,794 new COVID-19 cases were detected in the past reporting period in NSW, with a further four deaths.
There are now 1204 patients with COVID-19 in NSW hospitals, with 95 of them in intensive care.
Victoria reached a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, with 8577 infections and a further three deaths
There are 491 hospitalisations from the virus in the state, with 56 active cases in intensive care and 24 of those on a ventilator.
The prime minister said talks were under way with state and territory leaders to ensure health systems were able to meet a potential surge.
Talks would also occur on potentially changing the definition of COVID-19 patients in hospital
“There are people being counted as being in hospital for COVID, they didn’t go there for COVID, they went there for some other reason,” the prime minister told the Nine Network.
“That’s why they were admitted and they’ve been tested when there and found to have COVID.
“We need to get a standard definition on that because there are the key things to track.”
Mr Morrison said it was important people monitor their symptoms for COVID-19 during the new phase of the pandemic.
It’s something the prime minister has been doing himself in recent days after a COVID-positive case visited Kirribilli House last week during a press conference.
He said he was fine and was not symptomatic but was still monitoring for symptoms.
While Mr Morrison was heading to Canberra on Monday for discussions on concession arrangements for rapid-antigen tests, he ruled out making it free for everyone.
The rapid tests are currently free only for those who are required to have them, such as certain workers in high-risk settings.
“We’re now in a stage of the pandemic where you can’t just make everything free,” he said.
“When someone tells you they want to make something free, someone’s always going to pay for it, and it’s going to be you.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government had failed to prepare for a shift away from PCR testing and called for rapid-antigen tests to be made more available.
“(The government) has moved away from PCR testing because of the debacle when it came to people queuing for hours on hours, without putting in place access to rapid-antigen tests for the population,” he told ABC Radio.
“Certainly no one should be excluded from getting a rapid-antigen test because of their income.”
Mr Albanese said he also supported calls from the Pharmacy Guild of Australia for GST to be removed from the rapid tests.
Infectious diseases expert Professor Mary-Louise McLaws has implored the prime minister to make the rapid tests free for everyone.
She also called on the government to increase testing capacity.
“Absolutely we need to have more testing done, and I was really disappointed the way that the government only wants to really test those who have been exposed for four hours,” she told the ABC.
“You don’t need four hours to be exposed to either Delta or Omicron.”