SYDNEY: Australia's COVID-19 hospitalisation rate fell to its lowest in nearly three weeks on Wednesday, while a steady rate of daily infections raised hopes the worst of an outbreak fuelled by the Omicron coronavirus variant may have passed.
Hospital cases fell to about 4,600 on Wednesday, with all states seeing a dip in admission numbers, after a peak of nearly 5,400 a week ago.
"We've seen the peaks of Omicron, I think, come through in (New South Wales and Victoria)," Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is under pressure over his handling of the Omicron wave, told a media briefing.
With COVID-19 hospitalisations stabilising, Morrison said he had tasked health officials to check the impact on the health system before easing more border curbs. Morrison said last week he hoped international borders may fully reopen "before Easter".
Australia is going through a staggered border reopening allowing in only skilled migrants, international students and backpackers.
Airlines and tourism businesses, already battered by rounds of lockdowns over the past two years, are hoping for a quick re-opening to all tourists.
Fuelled by fast-spreading Omicron, Australia's total infections surged over the past two months, most in its most populous states of New South Wales and Victoria, with about 2.3 million cases recorded.
Until then, it had only detected some 200,000 infections since the pandemic began.
About 8.2 million boosters have been administered as of Wednesday, shots for half of the eligible population, with authorities pressing people to get their third dose soon to mitigate the threat of severe illness from Omicron.
New South Wales and South Australia said they would allow a staged return of non-urgent surgeries from Monday after hospitalisation rates steadied.
On Wednesday, Australia reported 70 new deaths, down from a record of 98 set last Friday, and just over 40,000 new cases.