SYDNEY (AP) – The Australian state of New South Wales reported 16 deaths on Sunday during its deadliest day in the pandemic, even as it relaxed rules to allow some lone essential workers to return at work if they are asymptomatic.
Just over 30,000 new cases have been reported in Australia’s most populous state, forcing those people to join more than 200,000 others in isolation.
No statistics are kept to determine how many of them are essential workers in the food and manufacturing sectors. But some employers say up to half of their workers have been put on leave after coming into contact with a positive case.
Buyers have reported empty shelves in many supermarkets due to the impact of the omicron outbreak on food processing and supply chains.
âCritical workers in the food logistics and manufacturing sectors on leave as close contacts will be allowed to leave self-isolation to travel to work if they are free of symptoms of COVID-19, to ensure that the state has continued access to essential goods, âNew South Wales Health said in a statement on Sunday.
Workers can only move out of self-isolation if their employer decides that their absence poses a high risk of disrupting the delivery of essential services and if they are unable to work from home.
Returning workers will be required to wear masks and adhere to risk management strategies demanded by their employers, including daily rapid antigen testing. If they are positive, they will have to return to isolation.
The rule change applies in agriculture to biosecurity and food safety personnel performing essential tasks; in manufacture for the production of food, beverages, groceries, cleaning and hygiene products; and in transport to logistics and food delivery.
The 16 people who died on Sunday included eight women and eight men aged 60, 70, 80 and 90, NSW Health said. This figure exceeds the previous record of 15 deaths, which was reached twice, on September 29 and October 1 of last year.
There were 1,927 people hospitalized, including 151 people in intensive care.
Victoria state reported 44,155 new cases on Sunday, including 22,051 from rapid antigen tests and 22,104 from PCR tests. Of those cases, 9,000 were from rapid antigen tests carried out on Saturday while more than 13,000 were carried out the previous days and reported on Sunday.
The numbers do not necessarily reflect the true spread of the virus as they only count the number of cases recorded.
Screening by health authorities showed that about 80% of new cases were the omicron variant.
Victoria recorded eight deaths on Sunday, but Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said cases of critical illness were relatively low amid the spread of the omicron.
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