Emergency lever pulled after deadliest day

Dominic GianniniAAP
Australia has recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic, with 77 fatalities reported.
Camera IconAustralia has recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic, with 77 fatalities reported. Credit: AAP

The federal government has activated emergency levers as Australia experiences its deadliest day of the pandemic.

There were 77 COVID-19 deaths recorded on Tuesday, up from the previous high of 57 on January 13.

That figure includes 36 deaths in NSW, 22 in Victoria, 16 in Queensland - more than double its previous high - two in South Australia and one in the ACT.

The government activated its private hospital agreement, greenlighting up to 57,000 more nurses and 100,000 staff for Omicron-affected areas throughout the country.

It is also triggering the national medical stockpile to support states and territories undergoing resource shortages.

Ten million medical items - three million rapid antigen tests, two million N95 masks, two million surgical masks and up to a million each of gloves, gowns and goggles - will also be provided to the aged care sector.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the government was trying to balance the impact of the virus with people still being able to work, tasking his team to closely examine Omicron deaths in Australia.

"(Omicron is) following a similar pattern. It's still older people with risk factors we know about that are most at risk," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"(But) now we know what to do to prevent those deaths. It won't always be successful but we do have treatments now and if people end up in hospital we know doctors and nurses are fantastic at dealing with this."

Labor leader Anthony Albanese criticised the government for failing to plan and prepare for another outbreak.

"(Australians) are entitled to be quite angry and frustrated at the failure of this government to put in place the mechanisms that were required," he said.

"To put in place proper testing regimes, to look after the workforce (and) to look after (aged care) residents. This prime minister is characterised by always waiting for a problem to become a crisis before he acts."

Professor Kelly acknowledged there would be deaths but said the fatality rate of less than one per cent is much lower than previously.

The chief medical officer also warned of another wave over winter.

"In winter will see more COVID, that's been the case everywhere so far," Professor Kelly said.

"Whether that will be armageddon for people that have not yet got it during this wave, or another variant, I can't tell. That's a crystal ball matter."

Professor Kelly said he continued to look at quarantine periods for infectious people - currently seven days - compared to countries like the US, which has a shorter period of five days.

"We will continue to look at the evidence on this," he said.

"It's a decision of balance, it's a decision about workforces and a trade off with increased transmission within the community."

As the chief medical officer implored people to get vaccinated in light of the deadliest day, Health Minister Greg Hunt was again forced to defend the efficacy of vaccines amid misinformation from government backbenchers.

Mr Hunt said he disagreed with the backbenchers and that it is the government that makes the policy.

"Wherever people have said things that are anti-vax, (including) people within our own movement, I disagree," he said.

"Frankly, the anti-vaxxers aren't just losing the debate, they've lost the debate. We're at 95 per cent (vaccination) nationally."

Mr Hunt said the Therapeutic Goods Administration had received the final data of the Novavax vaccine and he was hopeful it would make an announcement in the coming 10 days or next month.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails