Authorities are hopeful the Omicron COVID-19 outbreak has peaked in several Australian jurisdictions, as the nation reaches a vaccination milestone.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Saturday announced the nation has reached a 95 per cent first-dose vaccination rate against the virus for those aged 16 and older.
He said the milestone surpassed “almost all possible predictions that were made at the outset of the pandemic”.
“That is often referred to as a full vaccination level but we want to go further, we want to continue to encourage Australians to come forward,” Mr Hunt told reporters.
More than a million vaccines have been delivered in the past three days, which is a record for any immunisation program in Australia’s history, he said.
Some 92.5 per cent of Australians aged 16 and older have had two vaccine doses, while 52.6 per cent have received their booster, including more than 245,000 people on Friday.
More than 250,000 children aged between five and 11 have received their first dose of a vaccine since becoming eligible on Monday, including 57,000 on Friday.
Mr Hunt also flagged a decision on the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine – which is not yet available in Australia – is expected by the Therapeutic Goods Administration “in the coming 10 days”.
About 51 million doses of the protein-based vaccine have been ordered by the federal government.
An announcement on oral treatments for COVID-19 is also imminent, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said, while the federal advisory panel on vaccines has begun deliberating on the possibility of a second booster shot.
Mr Hunt and Professor Kelly said there were “signs of hope” the outbreaks in the ACT, NSW and Victoria have peaked.
“All predictions, and now the actual forecasting based on actual numbers of cases, particularly in NSW but also in Victoria and ACT, leads me to believe that we are close to the peak of this wave in terms of cases,” the latter said, noting infections are likely to be going under-reported.
However, Professor Kelly said the situation in Western Australia “is another story”.
“When they do start to get cases it will be later on. But for most of the rest of Australia, we are still on that upward curve, we may be plateauing and then there is a downswing of cases after that,” he said.
NSW recorded 48,768 new COVID-19 cases and 20 deaths on Saturday and Victoria registered 25,526 infections and 23 deaths.
Both states announced extensions of their rent relief schemes for small-to-medium-sized small businesses, many of which have been forced to close their doors or reduce operating hours because staff have COVID-19, are close contacts of a positive case, or are awaiting test results.
Queensland recorded 19,709 cases and six deaths, SA 4349 infections and four deaths, ACT 1320 cases and Tasmania 1139.
The NT recorded 412 cases and one death – a woman in her 40s from Darwin’s Bagot community.
The deaths bring the national toll from the virus to 2632, while there are more than 45000 Australians battling the virus in hospital.
Prof Kelly noted there will be a rise in hospitalisations and deaths in the coming weeks but noted the overall rate of severe disease is “extremely low”.
Western Australia recorded nine new cases, of whom two were locally acquired and seven either returned from interstate or overseas.
There are now 120 confirmed active COVID-19 cases in WA, of which 40 are in hotel quarantine and 80 are self-isolating.