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3246 new COVID cases as testing clinics close

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South Australia has recorded 3246 new COVID cases today, with 102 people in hospital, 12 of whom are in intensive care including one on a ventilator.

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Premier Steven Marshall revealed details of today’s cases at a press conference a short time ago, saying the number hospitalised was “well within our capacity”, adding that “30 to 40 per cent” of them were not fully vaccinated.

“We are very concerned about Omicron, we are very concerned about the spread of this,” he said.

“We are still vulnerable to Omicron. We don’t want Omicron to overwhelm our health system in South Australia.”

It comes as four Clinpath testing clinics closed today, with the company citing staff shortages, putting added pressure on busy SA Pathology sites.

SA Health reported this morning the wait time for people lining up to be tested at Victoria Park blew out to 10 hours for those without a booking, and three hours for those with an appointment, while the wait time was six hours at Aldinga.

A Clinpath spokeswoman told InDaily the company’s St Mary’s and Smithfield testing sites had “closed indefinitely” but its Aldinga and Gepps Cross clinics would reopen “in the foreseeable future”.

“Staff have had to be redirected to aged care facilities,” she said.

Marshall said SA Pathology would “pick up the slack” from the closed Clinpath sites and rejected suggestions it would lead to longer wait times for results.

He said there were now five children with COVID admitted to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, while the number of infected prisoners and staff had increased to 129, up from 90 yesterday, but “all are doing well”.

Marshall also said a shipment of 250,000 rapid antigen tests had arrived in South Australia today, “crucial for use right across our most vulnerable settings in South Australia”.

He said $10 million in government support funding would be transferred today to more than 3400 businesses “doing it tough” in the pandemic.

It comes as new COVID cases in Victoria surged to 14,020 today – the first time numbers have hit five figures.

The new infections are from 60,000 swabs, meaning almost one in four Victorians getting tested are returning positive results as the Omicron variant sweeps the state.

New South Wales has set records for hospitalisations and daily caseloads, as the state recorded 23,131 new cases.

Meanwhile, SA Pathology has also located a shipment of about 100 COVID tests that went missing in transit from Mt Gambier and says they will now be given priority for results.

We have located the container of specimens from Mount Gambier, which was being transported to Adelaide for processing, and the samples will be processed as a priority today,” SA Pathology said in a statement.

SA Pathology blamed the problem on a delay with an external courier and said it expected the test results would be returned today.

The State Opposition said people waited up to five days in isolation without being notified of the problem.

“We have residents in the South East who were stuck in their homes for days at a time awaiting results of tests that weren’t being undertaken,” Opposition spokesperson Clare Scriven said.

“This is totally unacceptable for local people and has undermined people’s trust in the testing system.”

There is also growing concern among medical professionals about the impact of the outbreak on the state’s hospitals.

The head of the state’s peak body for emergency doctors this morning pleaded for SA Health to “work with clinicians to fix gaps in COVID plan and for long-term change”.

“SA hospitals were full, EDs overcrowded before COVID came to town. It’s only going to get worse,” tweeted Dr Michael Edmonds, SA faculty chair of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

“We need government support to provide best care now and in the future.”

Yesterday, South Australia recorded 2552 new cases – including Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens and Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas, who have both reported feeling only mild symptoms.

As case numbers rise, parents are still waiting to hear about a plan for the new school year, with authorities considering various options, including remote learning.

Education Minister John Gardner yesterday said authorities would have a better understanding in “a week or two” of the expected impact of Omicron for schools and would alert parents then.

School is due to return at the end of the month, with children aged 5-11 only eligible for their first vaccine from January 10, with the second dose eight weeks later.

Marshall this morning said “we’re looking at all of the options at the moment”.

“I know parents are probably anxious and need to plan but this is a brand new variant and we really do need to get the right advice and we’ll do that as quickly as possible,” he told ABC Radio.

Marshall said he was waiting for advice from the the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

He said authorities were mainly concerned about primary school students who will be unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated at the start of the term.

Opposition health spokesperson Chris Picton said “no element of the system is working”.

“PCR testing, rapid testing, ambulance ramping, contact tracing, close contact definitions, plan for schools, booster shot availability, IT failures, and the list goes on,” he said.

“Our health system is already under enormous strain – and Steven Marshall said our State hasn’t even reached its peak yet.”

Marshall this morning said it was “a little bit disappointing” the state had not reached a goal of having 90 per cent of those eligible double vaccinated by the end of last year.

He said “we are looking to significantly grow the capacity right throughout January and February” for people to get their booster vaccinations.

“We want to get as many jabs into arms as possible,” he told ABC Radio.

Marshall said the booster “gives a lot better protection”.

“You’re less likely to get it if you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to pass it on, but most importantly you’re very much less likely to get severe symptoms and end up in hospital and on a ventilator,” he said.

NSW has set records for COVID-19 hospitalisations and daily caseloads, with the state today recording 23,131 new cases.

There are 1344 people in the state’s hospitals, 78 more than the previous record set on September 21 when NSW was in the grips of the Delta variant.

Tuesday’s hospitalisation figure marks a rise by 140 on the previous day.

Two more deaths were reported in that state on Tuesday.

The new cases were from 83,376 tests processed in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday, with the positivity rate at a record 27.7 per cent.

While ICU numbers are rising – 105 at the latest count – they are well short of the peak of 244 in September.

Intensive care admissions continue to be driven largely by the more severe Delta.

Since December 16, about 74 per cent of patients in NSW ICUs for whom the variant is known had Delta, a NSW Health spokesman told AAP.

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine president Dr Clare Skinner said hospital emergency departments and staff were “facing extreme pressures as we contend with providing ‘business-as-usual’ urgent care over the busy summer period, as well as increasing COVID-19 presentations”.

“Frontline staff are reporting that while many COVID-positive patients being seen at EDs are requiring admission to hospital, many also – although requiring clinical assessment – are well enough to be discharged,” Skinner said.

“Although these issues are currently being experienced most acutely in New South Wales and Victoria, where case numbers are highest, similar scenarios are occurring and emerging in other states and territories, and must be responded to and planned for as cases continue to climb.

“As the College has repeatedly said throughout this pandemic, the resources required to provide appropriate healthcare, across hospital and emergency departments, as well as primary and community settings, must be factored into ongoing healthcare system planning and responses to COVID-19 from all governments.

“Reported numbers of admissions to hospital, or to intensive care units, do not adequately represent the pressures on emergency departments, or general practice, as increasing numbers of people infected with the Omicron strain seek medical care.”

-additional reporting by AAP

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