Australia posts near record virus toll

Scott Morrison has warned rap star Kanye West:
Scott Morrison has warned rap star Kanye West: "The rules are you have to be fully vaccinated."

Australia has recorded almost a hundred COVID-19 deaths for a second consecutive day.

After a pandemic-high 98 fatalities were reported on Friday, a further 97 were announced on Saturday, 49 of them in NSW, which constituted its deadliest day to date.

Victoria registered 31 deaths, Queensland 12 and South Australia five.

More than 3630 Australian lives have been lost since the pandemic began, over a thousand of them this month and 500 in the past week

According to Australia's chief nursing and midwifery officer, Professor Alison McMillan, the aftershock of the Omicron wave will also mean death rates will likely remain high for some time after infections plateau.

Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler labelled Saturday "a terrible, tragic day" and said each casualty would be "felt very deeply by Australians irrespective of age or irrespective of any underlying health condition that might be reported in one newspaper or another".

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has issued a blunt warning to global rap star Kanye West, who has scheduled a series of Australian concerts in March but is yet to indicate whether he's vaccinated or not.

"The rules are you have to be fully vaccinated," Mr Morrison told reporters on Queensland's Sunshine Coast on Saturday.

"Those are the rules. They apply to everybody, as people have seen most recently."

His message follows the deportation of tennis world No.1 Novak Djokovic, whose visa was initially cancelled because his vaccine exemption was declared invalid.

"It doesn't matter who you are, they are the rules," the prime minister said.

"Follow the rules, you can come. You don't follow the rules, you can't."

Elsewhere, Health Minister Greg Hunt expects the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation to sign off on booster shots for children aged 16 and 17 next week.

The wait time for boosters across the country will also drop from four to three months on Monday.

The return of schools next week, accompanied by states' rapid test surveillance, is expected to drive daily case tallies up again.

Queensland earlier delayed its school return by two weeks until February 7, while South Australia decided on a staged return over the coming fortnight.

NSW recorded 13,354 new infections on Saturday and Victoria 12,250, with the state's COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar revealing the tally included a "handful" of Omicron sub-variant cases.

There were 10,391 cases announced in Queensland, 1740 in SA and 828 in the Northern Territory where there are now also 111 virus patients requiring hospital care.

Tasmania recorded 683 infections, the ACT 620 and Western Australia 23.

On the issue of aged care, the United Workers Union has launched an attack on the federal government over the deaths of more than 200 residents over the past week.

The union says the first month of 2022 has been deadlier for Australia's elderly than all of last year.

Australian Associated Press