The number of COVID-19 deaths in NSW is likely to rise over the coming days due to the spread of the virus in the community, the state's chief health officer has warned.
NSW recorded 17 virus-related deaths on Monday and has seen increases in the number of people being treated in hospital and in intensive care.
Separately, statistics from Queensland show someone who is unvaccinated is 24 times more likely to end up in ICU compared to those who have had three doses, the state's chief medical officer said.
Nearly 30,000 positive tests were recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday in NSW. The state's hospitals are now caring for 2,776 COVID-19 patients - 126 more than the day before - while 203 people are in intensive care with COVID-19, an increase of 12.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, speaking to reporters in Sydney on Monday, said: "Given the broader community transmission of COVID, I would like to flag that the number of deaths (is) likely to be high over coming days.
"But the key message is those boosters will improve the protection.
"Only one of the 17 people that died had been boosted."
Dr Chant also reported that 95 per cent of samples taken in the past two days from a private pathology laboratory were the Omicron variant.
"We know that for the Omicron variant, having that booster is critical to upping your level of protection," she said.
"And we know that with both variants, even though the Omicron variant is milder overall, it still will have an incredible impact on people that are elderly and those with underlying conditions."
'We can't have never-ending lockdowns'
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet cited the ICU numbers as he also pushed for people to get booster shots.
"If we look at the numbers today, 200 people in ICU, 50 per cent of those people in ICU are unvaccinated," he said.
"The evidence is clear - and that's why I continue to ask people right across our state: if you haven't received that booster shot, please go out and do it."
Mr Perrottet also said lockdowns would be a thing of the past, otherwise the pandemic would become "never-ending".
He said: "The best way through this pandemic is to push through.
"And what we can't have, and I understand that it is a different approach to the last two years, but what we can't have here in New South Wales and across the country are never-ending lockdowns. Because that will result in a pandemic that becomes a never-ending story."
Of the newly reported cases on Monday, 17,646 were traditional PCR tests and 11,858 were the results of at-home rapid antigen tests (RATs) reported to the government.
More than 1,000 of the RAT results were more than a week old, but newly reported through Service NSW.
The total number of positive results reported was 5,156 fewer than the day before.
NSW Police will on Wednesday officially begin enforcing a $1,000 fine for people who fail to report rapid results, although it remains to be seen how they will do so in practice.
Victoria yet to peak, CHO says
Victoria has recorded 22,429 new COVID-19 cases and six deaths as authorities say the state is nearing its Omicron infection peak, with a third of PCR tests confirming the presence of COVID-19.
The new infections confirmed by the health department on Monday include 12,059 from PCR tests and 10,370 from RATs.
It brings the total number of active cases in the state to 245,040, including a record 1,229 patients in hospital.
Monday's patient number is a 115 increase on the 1,114 reported on Sunday.
The number of people in ICU has grown by seven to 129 with 38 on ventilation, three more than the previous day.
However, with one in three PCR tests coming back positive, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned hospitalisation numbers will continue to rise, as he predicted a peak may not be reached for a month.
He said there was a "lag" of about two weeks between case numbers and hospital admissions, and three weeks for that to translate to ICU figures.
"That will peak sometime in February, maybe mid-February, but it's hard to know until we really see what the peak in case numbers is going to be," he said.
State authorities have also begun handing out millions of RATs to essential workers and vulnerable people after the state government on Sunday received three million of the 44 million RATs it ordered.
Focus on multicultural communities
Speaking to reporters on Monday afternoon, Victoria's Deputy Premier James Merlino announced a new focus on tackling COVID misinformation in multicultural communities.
He said eight community support organisations will receive $1.2 million in funding that aims to encourage vaccination among diverse communities.
"It's vital that multifaith and multicultural groups get the right information from people they trust at the right time," Mr Merlino said.
"Eight organisations ... are the successful recipients of this funding, which will help them deliver key services to make sure that no Victorians come across any hurdles or barriers to getting a vaccine [or] getting a third dose."
These organisations will help people in diverse and multicultural communities with a range of services, from helping people make vaccination bookings and organising childcare so parents can attend their vaccination appointments to organising transport to vaccination hubs.
The eight organisations will also work "with community and religious leaders to deliver vital public health communications in the right language at the right time", Mr Merlino said.
Queensland reports seven deaths
Seven deaths were reported in Queensland overnight with none of them having had a booster shot, Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said.
She added there were 702 patients in hospital, 47 in intensive care and 15 on ventilators.
"(It's) quite a jump, over 50 additional people in our public hospitals in the last 24 hours. Thankfully we don't see the corresponding increase in ICU," she said.
The state also recorded 15,122 new cases.
Dr John Gerrard, the state's chief health officer, said the deaths were two people in their 80s and five in their 90s. Two of them had not been vaccinated and five were double-vaccinated.
He added: "Our statisticians have been busy at work looking at the intensive care units, what they have found is that if you are unvaccinated in Queensland, you are 24 times more likely to be admitted to a Queensland intensive care unit than someone who is triple-vaccinated."
ACT death roll reaches 19, SA outbreak 'stable'
The ACT recorded a death and 1,601 new cases in the latest reporting period, 878 via PCR test and 723 from RATs.
In the territory, 52 people are in hospital, four in ICU.
In the Northern Territory, two remote communities - Yirrkala in East Arnhem Land and Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island, also in Arnhem Land - will be locked down after 284 new cases were recorded.
And in South Australia, premier Steven Marshall said the outbreak was "very stable at the moment" as 3,829 new cases were recorded, but no deaths.
SA's new cases on Monday included 2,860 detected through PCR swabs and 969 through rapid antigen tests.
The number of people in hospital rose to 227, with 26 in intensive care where five people are on ventilators.
Mr Marshall said the current situation in SA was nothing like what the state was experiencing a few weeks ago when new infections were doubling every couple of days.
"It is very stable at the moment. We can't be complacent, we're still dealing with a highly transmissible variant," he said.
"But we are starting to see some very, very hopeful signs."
Tasmania recorded 1,037 new COVID-19 cases, with 21 people in hospital.
Explain inflated prices for RATs, ACCC says
Meanwhile Australia's consumer watchdog says it is concerned about continued price gouging on RAT kits.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has analysed more than 1,800 reports of price hikes on the essential item since 25 December, and is now averaging close to 150 reports a day.
Chairman Rod Sims says at the extreme end the watchdog had seen "outrageous" reports of tests costing up to $500 for two online and more than $70 per test at convenience stores, service stations and independent supermarkets.
On data available to the ACCC so far, suppliers and intermediate suppliers say wholesale prices are between $3.95 and $11.45 per test, depending on the type of test and volumes purchased.
"There are several businesses that have repeatedly come to our notice thanks to the information provided by the public," Mr Sims said in a statement.
"We are asking those businesses to urgently explain the prices they are charging."
Almost three-quarters of Australians say RATs should be free, while more than half believe governments have failed to adequately plan over the past two years to deal with challenges that have been thrown up by Omicron.
A survey by the Australian Institute found 72 per cent of respondents believe the federal government should provide RATs free to everyone, including two-thirds of coalition voters.
Just 16 per cent believe retailers should continue to sell them to individuals.