Australia reports fewer COVID-19 deaths, hospitalisations steady

·2 min read
People queue for coronavirus tests in Sydney

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia reported fewer COVID-19 deaths on Thursday, a day after recording a pandemic high, while hospital cases remained steady, raising hopes the country's worst outbreak may have peaked.

Officials reported a total of 59 deaths, down from a pandemic peak of 87 on Wednesday, with just two states still to report figures.

Hospitalisations have remained steady at around 5,000 for the last few days, peaking at just under 5,400 on Tuesday, with admissions falling for the second straight day in New South Wales, the worst-affected state.

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said the state's health system was "currently operating within capacity" against the Omicron-fuelled outbreak.

"Hospitalisations and (intensive care units) remain stable and that is incredibly pleasing and reassuring," Perrottet said during a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital.

While the Omicron variant is considered a milder strain, the sheer number of cases has put enormous pressure on hospitals, leading to staff shortages.

Nurses and midwives at a major Sydney hospital were the latest medical workers to protest conditions, holding a rally outside the facility.

The national cabinet, a group of federal and state leaders, is due to meet later on Thursday to discuss pandemic strategy as the retail sector calls for its workers to be added to the list of those exempt from quarantine requirements.

Workers in key industries, including health, food distribution and transport, can leave self-isolation to attend work, if they are symptom-free but that rule does not apply across the entire retail sector.

Australia's daily new cases have dropped to around 46,000, well down from a peak of around 150,000 two weeks ago. The country of 25 million has reported a total of more than 2 million infections, and 3,389 deaths.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)