A leading epidemiologist has compared the threat posed by the Omicron COVID-19 variant to a bushfire, urging leaders not to let it rip over Christmas.
The University of Melbourne's Tony Blakely has stressed masks, alongside booster shots, are vital even as NSW scraps most requirements to wear them.
"Omicron may work out for us, but it's not going to work if we let it go crazy. It's like a bushfire, if you just let it rip, it'll cause heaps of damage," he told the Seven Network on Thursday.
Professor Blakely flagged regional lockdowns might also be required despite premiers promising not to go back to them.
"It's going to be a bumpy few months as we work our way through this," he said.
NSW recorded 1742 new infections on Thursday, while there were 1622 in Victoria alongside more nine deaths.
The ACT recorded 11 new cases.
The NSW government anticipated daily case numbers could potentially reach 25,000 by the end of January.
At the same time, it scrapped restrictions on unvaccinated people and relaxed mask requirements in all but high-risk settings.
Victoria has also relaxed vaccine mandates in some settings. But masks are still required in retail.
Queensland will from Friday start barring unvaccinated people from most venues.
University of Melbourne epidemiologist Nancy Baxter questions why restrictions are being relaxed as other countries tighten rules to deal with Omicron.
"There is nowhere else in the world that has decided to say, well, we have this new variant coming that seems to spread much faster so let's relax restrictions," she told ABC TV.
"It doesn't make a tonne of sense and it has the potential to drive cases higher here than elsewhere."
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged premiers not to panic about or overreact to the spread of Omicron.
"What we want in front of us is to safely live with COVID, to get the vaccines and the booster jabs to those who are eligible and to keep our borders open," he told the Seven Network.
"That is what is really important - to reunite families at Christmas, and ensure that our economy continues to grow and continues to create new jobs."
Australia's vaccine rollout co-ordinator John Frewen expects the country to hit a 90 per cent double-dose rate for people aged 16 and older on Thursday.
More than one million booster shots have been rolled out in about the last week and Lieutenant General Frewen stresses supply isn't the problem.
"It's a huge logistical challenge, but the supply is there. We've just got to make sure it gets to the right places," he told Sky News.
Lieutenant-General Frewen said more than one million doses of Pfizer and Moderna were in stock in pharmacies across the country.
"Where some pharmacies have run out, others have still got stuff on the shelf," he said.
Australian Associated Press
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