SYDNEY - Australia should brace for more COVID-19 deaths in the next few weeks, authorities said on Wednesday, as record infections fueled by the Omicron outbreak overwhelmed health systems forcing Victoria to raise its emergency status for hospitals.
"We have seen and we will continue to see deaths, mostly in older people, mostly in people with other chronic diseases," Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly told broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday, a day after Australia suffered its deadliest day with 77 deaths from the virus.
Amid record infections, Victorian state hospitals from midday Wednesday will move to a 'code brown' status, usually reserved for natural disasters or mass casualty events, while reports said nurses had demanded the government to get the help of the army.
Nurses in neighboring New South Wales (NSW) state on Wednesday staged a rally in one of Sydney's biggest hospitals protesting against staff shortages.
"Nurses and midwives are tired, angry and frustrated and feel that the NSW government isn't supporting them at all," nurses union's Shaye Candish said.
Although Kelly admitted "challenges with nursing staff" levels, he said the country's hospital capacity was coping with rising admissions.
Despite rising hospitalizations, authorities are trying to justify their decision to live with the virus when higher inoculations were reached, citing a milder Omicron variant compared with previous COVID-19 strains.
But the sheer number of cases have put pressure on hospitals with 5,025 people admitted as of Tuesday. A month ago, that was 759 in Australia, with numbers nearly doubling in two weeks.
A total of 50 deaths have been registered by late morning between New South Wales and Victoria, home to more than half of Australia's 25 million population. More than 53,000 have been registered, with other states due to report later.
After successfully restricting the coronavirus earlier in the pandemic, Australia is dealing with a record surge of cases, with around 1.3 million detected in the past two weeks.
So far, Australia has reported around 1.6 million infections and 2,826 deaths since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry)