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Australia is suffering from the deadliest pandemic day as Omicron drifts up on hospital cases

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia suffered its deadliest day from the pandemic on Tuesday as a fast-moving Omicron outbreak continued to push hospitalization rates up to record levels, although daily infections slowed slightly.

Australia is handling its worst COVID-19 outbreak, driven by the Omicron variant of coronavirus, which has put more people in hospitals and intensive care than at any time during the pandemic.

A total of 77 deaths were recorded, exceeding the previous national high of 57 last Thursday, official data showed.

"Today is a very difficult day for our state," New South Wales (NSW) Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said during a media briefing as the state reported 36 deaths, a new pandemic.

Only four of those who died in NSW had received their booster shots, prompting state health authorities to urge people to avoid delays and get their third dose soon. Thirty-three were double-dosed.

"There needs to be a sense of urgency in embracing booster doses," said NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant. "For Omicron, we know the protection is lower and we need the next boost to get the higher level of protection."

The rise in the number of cases hit consumer confidence last week, an ANZ survey showed on Tuesday, triggering self-imposed lockdowns and stifling spending, while states sought to avoid shutdowns and keep businesses open.

Omicron also received Prime Minister Scott Morrison's approval ratings, according to a broad poll on Tuesday, putting the opposition Labor in a leading position months before a federal election.

Amid rising hospital admissions, Victoria on Tuesday declared a "code brown" in hospitals, usually reserved for short-term emergencies, which would give hospitals the power to cancel non-urgent health care and cancel staff leave.

While authorities do not usually specify the variant of coronavirus that leads to death, officials have said that most patients on intensive care were infected with the Omicron strain, with unvaccinated adolescents making up a "significant number".

Queensland said none of Tuesday's record of 16 deaths in the state had received booster shots. Of the 45 people who have died in the state due to COVID-19 since December 13, only one had received their third dose.

"Please come forward and get your booster, we know it makes a difference," said Health Minister Yvette D'Ath.

About 73,000 new infections were reported Tuesday, down from a maximum of 150,000 last Thursday. So far, Australia has reported about 1.6 million infections since the pandemic began, of which about 1.3 million were in the last two weeks. The total number of deaths was 2,776.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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