Queensland has suspended non-urgent elective surgeries as Covid-19 takes out thousands of health workers amid a daily record of 11,174 new cases.
There was also another death overnight – an unvaccinated Brisbane man in his 30s – taking the toll since the start of the pandemic to 10.
It is the third consecutive day new infections have topped 10,000 in the Sunshine State, although the daily tally has not yet included people who have tested positive on rapid antigen tests (RATs) at home.
Victoria, for example, had its daily case tally jump from 21,728 to 51,356 on Saturday after including RAT test results in the official figures for the first time.
In order to more accurately reflect case numbers, Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath on Friday said an online self-reporting system was now live for people to flag their positive at-home tests.
It is hoped this register will allow the government to more accurately monitor the spread of Covid across Queensland, given delays in obtaining laboratory confirmation of positive PCR results.
“It is really simple to register that you have tested positive and we are asking anyone who has tested positive in the last 14 days to go on to their register and report and of course going forward,” Ms D’Ath said.
Ms D’Ath on Saturday also announced non-urgent elective surgeries would be delayed until after March 1 to ease pressure on the health system, with more than 3500 workers now furloughed in isolation, or having tested positive.
This measure – which is similar to previous pauses the government enacted for elective surgeries – will be reviewed at the end of January.
Queensland’s Covid hospitalisations jumped from 327 to 349 in the 24 hours to 7pm Friday night, with 17 people now in intensive care, up from 14. Three people are on ventilators.
There are now 63,000 active Covid cases in Queensland, with 24,000 being treated in home care.
The coroner has also confirmed a Gold Coast man in his 30s who died earlier in the week was in fact a victim of the virus. He was vaccinated.
Saturday’s update follows a warning from Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday that back-to-school dates could be delayed by two weeks as the state braces for the Omicron wave to peak over a torrid January and February period.
Queensland chief health officer Dr John Gerrard has warned the total active caseload could climb into the “hundreds of thousands” by the end of January.
Queenslanders are being urged to work from home where possible and to consider staying indoors for the next month-and-a-half.
Despite an increasing shift towards rapid antigen testing, there were still 33,000 PCR tests undertaken in Queensland over the past 24 hours, slightly down on 36,492 the day before.
Frustrations have boiled over in recent days as residents wait for hours in huge testing lines and even longer for results.
That said, new testing protocols have been introduced to ease pressure on the buckling health system and smooth out bottlenecks.
This includes PCR tests no longer being needed for Queensland border crossings or on day 5, while less vulnerable people are being steered towards RAT tests wherever possible.
This push, however, has come as RAT tests remain relatively scarce in the community, with pharmacies and retail businesses scrambling for supply over the past few weeks.
On Friday Ms D’Ath said the first batch of 18 million new RAT tests have begun to trickle out across the Queensland community, with supply set to ramp up over the coming days.
This includes RAT tests being available at certain testing sites.
Queensland on Saturday also confirmed it had again paused its scheduled inflation-driven public transport fare increase.
Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said the ongoing freeze was in recognition of the emergence of the Omicron strain in the Queensland community.
The scheduled fare increase will be implemented in July 2022 instead.