Australia well prepared for mounting COVID-19 cases: Health ministerTravellers receive tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pre-departure testing facility, as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant, outside the international terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

MELBOURNE— Australian officials on Sunday (Dec 19) said there was no need to clamp down on Christmas festivities even as new COVID-19 infections climbed in Sydney, with the country’s high vaccination rate helping keep people out of hospital.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was confident Australia would not need to follow the Netherlands, which has reimposed a strict lockdown over the Christmas and New Year period to curb the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“We’re going into summer, we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the world and a very different set of circumstances. So we don’t see that’s a likely situation in Australia,” Hunt told reporters in a televised media conference.

The Netherlands, he said, has suffered vastly higher infections and deaths than Australia over the pandemic and is now in the depths of winter when cases were more likely to climb sharply.

“We’re well prepared and people are overwhelmingly … continuing to do an amazing job,” Hunt said, referring to the more than 90 per cent of Australians over 16 who have been fully vaccinated.

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, on Sunday reported 2,566 new cases, up from 2,482 on Saturday. Cases in intensive care remained low at 28, which state premier Dominic Perrottet said was “incredibly positive”.

Pressed by reporters on whether the state was being complacent in the face of mounting cases, Perrottet said the key metric was the number of cases in intensive care.

“It’s a time for calm. But it’s also an important time to go out and get your booster shot, because vaccination has been key to New South Wales’ success,” he said.

In Victoria state, new infections fell to 1,240 on Sunday from 1,504 a day earlier, with 81 cases in intensive care. Tasmania reported three new cases.

Health officials said it was not clear yet what the split was between Omicron and Delta cases among Australia’s new infections.

Australia has fared much better than other countries in the pandemic after shutting its borders in March 2020, with around 247,000 total cases and 2,142 deaths.