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PM hints at mask rule return as dire Omicron prediction emerges

Scott Morrison has hinted that mask restrictions could soon again be reinforced in NSW as the state sets another daily Covid-19 case record with more than 3700 new infections.

During an interview with The Today Show on Wednesday morning, the prime minister said he had been in contact with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet “quite regularly” ahead of emergency national cabinet meeting, which was happening on the same day.

“That’s where we’ve seen obviously the biggest surge in cases and practical decisions will be taken there, but look you should be wearing them anyway,” Mr Morrison said.

“You don’t have to wait to be told in this country. We’ve all got to be doing sensible things,” he said, adding that people should already be wearing masks in public settings like shopping centres.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a community breakfast on Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, Tuesday. Source: AAP
Scott Morrison has hinted that mask restrictions could soon again be reinforced in NSW. Source: AAP

He also urged people to meet people outdoors and wash their hands regularly.

“We should be doing that, that’s the advice. We don’t have to mandate people wearing sunscreen and hats in summer and in the same way people should be following that health advice… it’s just common sense.”

State and territory leaders will gather on Wednesday to discuss the spread of Omicron cases, and the possibility of shortening the time between the second Covid vaccine and the booster shot from five months to four, the PM said.

Government leaders play down grim Omicron modelling

Tensions are high ahead of the national cabinet meeting after daunting modelling from the Doherty Institute was leaked late on Tuesday afternoon.

It shows Australia could reach up to 200,000 daily Omicron cases by late January or early February unless states and territories beef up public health measures, The Age reported.

“Boosters alone will not be fast enough to halt the spread of Omicron,” the Doherty modelling says.

Such a rapid growth in cases will push hospitalisation rates to 4000 a day, with between 8000 and 10,000 patients in the ICU, the modelling says.

However, government leaders have played down the Doherty report, saying it is misleading and pointing out it is the worst case of all possible scenarios.

It includes the assumption the Omicron variant is as severe as Delta.

Other assumptions factor into the figure include a highly limited booster program, a lack of hospital surge capacity and no changes to public health measures like lockdowns and and retail restrictions.

"None of these five assumptions represent the likely state of events, let alone all of them together," Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Wednesday.

"Presenting that scenario as the likely scenario that will occur is highly misleading."

Long queues are seen as people wait to receive a Covid test at a drive through testing facility at Macquarie Park, in Sydney, Wednesday. Source: AAP
Long queues at Covid testing sites in NSW and Victoria have become a common sight.

Hospitals coping well, Scott Morrison says

While speaking with The Today Show, Mr Morrison said he wanted to “exercise real caution” when it came to the modelling.

“Those scenarios are worst case scenarios that assume there’s no surge capacity in hospitals, that Omicron is the same as Delta, that no one takes sensible behaviour or responses to what their doing, there is no change to the booster program, and all of those — one of those, let alone all of them — are completely unlikely,” he said.

“So I wouldn’t want to alarm people over that report, that is not what we’re actually expecting to happen.

“But I would say this, of course the number of Omicron cases will increase, it’s highly infectious, but the indications are that it is not as severe, and our hospitals particularly in NSW and Victoria have been coping extremely well.”

With AAP

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