On Thursday, Australia saw another day of growing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, raising fears that modifications to testing requirements could conceal the outbreak’s real scope.
The country recorded 72,000 cases, up from 64,000 the day before, with 3,267 hospitalizations and 208 patients in intensive care, up from 2,990.
Six people died and 21,997 new cases were reported in Victoria, the largest daily increase in infections since the pandemic began.
More than 10,000 instances were documented in Queensland, with health experts warning that many more infections were likely spreading unnoticed in the population.
In New South Wales, there were 34,994 new cases, down from a high of 35,054 on Wednesday. Six people died in Australia’s most populous state on Thursday, including a double-vaccinated man in his twenties.
Because case numbers merely tally the number of cases reported, they do not necessarily indicate the true spread of the infection.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended a new policy that eliminates the requirement for Australians to do a PCR test to confirm a positive quick antigen test at a press conference on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the adjustment was decided during a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders.
“Case numbers aren’t as important,” Morrison remarked. “The issue is connecting to care, and the Commonwealth gives telehealth support to people so they can do that and get advice on how to manage their infection at home and seek further help if things get out of hand.”
Positive fast antigen test results must be reported to the Department of Health, according to Health Minister Martin Foley.
Anyone who has a positive fast antigen test will be considered a likely case and will be required to isolate.
Experts believe that the new strategy would lead to underreporting of instances because most quick antigen tests are done at home. They claim that an accurate picture of case numbers is required to guarantee that hospitals and other medical institutions are prepared.
Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, believes that the move away from confirmatory PCR tests will result in inaccurate case numbers in the future.
“The horse has gone; this is Australia’s biggest policy failure to date,” Blakely told Seven Network in Australia. “We also haven’t considered how you’ll put that data into the surveillance system, so we won’t have that up and running in the next few weeks.”
Morrison was also grilled on Thursday on the Australian Border Force’s decision to deny Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic’s visa ahead of the Australian Open.
The Australian Open, which begins later this month, has given Djokovic a medical exemption.
Many Australians have seen a double standard in the country’s treatment of Djokovic, who have struggled to receive scarce and often expensive quick antigen tests or have been forced into isolation.
When asked if the following cancellation of Djokovic’s visa was political and based on his prominence as a sports celebrity, Morrison disputed that Djokovic was singled out.
He explained that “one of the things the Border Force does is act on intelligence to divert their attention to probable arrivals.”
“When people make public comments about what they claim to have and want to achieve, they attract a lot of attention to themselves.”