Australia recorded its deadliest day since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, with 74 deaths confirmed in the last reporting period.
NSW recorded a single-day record 36 deaths, along with Queensland which had 16, more than double its previous record, while Victoria reported 22.
The previous single-day record for COVID-related deaths nationwide was set on January 13, when 57 deaths were reported.
The figures come as unions threaten to strike over concerns over workers’ access to rapid antigen tests.
Following an emergency meeting of the Australian Council of Trade Unions on Monday, Secretary Sally McManus said safety protections for employees must be ensured during the Omicron outbreak.
“Right now, unfortunately, we are seeing some employers trying to force HIV-positive people to go to work,” she told the ABC on Tuesday.
“It’s absolutely a red line, we have to keep people safe during the pandemic, not just for them and their colleagues, (it’s) for the whole community.”
Unions have called for rapid antigen tests to be made free for workers to ease pressure on businesses.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said rapid antigen tests should be distributed free of charge across the country to keep people safe.
“Not having rapid antigen tests in good supply and available to all meant economic hardship,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney.
“It’s extraordinary that three years into the pandemic, it’s easier in some communities to get COVID than to get a RAT.”
However, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said strike threats from unions over the provision of rapid tests were fueling fear during the pandemic.
‘It’s exactly the wrong thing at the wrong time for the economy and for people’s jobs – it puts workers last and not first, and hurts job prospects,’ Mr Frydenberg told Sky News .
“It’s not a choice between one person’s job and one person’s health – what we’re trying to do is protect jobs and use the best medical advice to do that.”
As pupils prepare to return, NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said free rapid tests will be rolled out to all schools in the state as part of COVID safety plans.
Mr Albanese said a rapid antigen testing approach in schools was a sensible approach.
“We want schools to reopen when it’s safe, and what’s important with these measures is that we follow health advice,” he said.
“It makes sense to use rapid antigen tests to maintain activity.”
NSW has recorded 29,830 new cases of COVID-19, including 13,763 from rapid tests and 16,067 from PCR tests.
In Victoria, there were 20,180 cases, with PCR accounting for over 8,000 cases while over 11,000 came from rapid tests.
There have been 15,962 cases in Queensland, while 1,310 were recorded in Tasmania on Tuesday.
More than one in four Australians aged over 18 have received their booster shot and one in seven aged between five and 11 have been bitten within the first week of eligibility.
Australian Associated Press