Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison batted away Covid-19 worries three days ahead of federal elections, claiming many reported deaths are not caused by the virus and vowing not to interfere in people’s lives.
Australia detected 66 Covid-related deaths and more than 53,000 infections in the previous 24 hours — far more than six months ago when daily numbers generally showed fewer than 20 deaths and 2,000 infections.
Infection numbers have surged since the arrival of Omicron and the relaxation of pandemic-related restrictions. Very few Australians still wear a mask or maintain a social distance.
“What you see when you have case numbers at that level is that people, when they pass away for many other causes, that they will die with Covid,” Morrison said.
“And the deaths are recorded as Covid deaths. But that does not necessarily mean… that they passed away because of Covid. That’s a very different proposition,” he told reporters.
Australia reports a Covid-19 death for anyone who has a confirmed or probable infection with the virus when they die, unless there is a “clear alternative” cause of death.
“We’re living with Covid,” Morrison said.
“We’re not going back to those daily press conferences of people talking about Covid every day and putting the threat of shutdowns and lockdowns and interfering in people’s lives again,” he added.
“That’s not what I am going to do if I am re-elected on Saturday. I am not going to drag Australia back into those times again,” Morrison told reporters.
Opposition Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese, whose party is slightly ahead in the opinion polls despite a recent tightening in the race, said the pandemic remained a risk.
“We need to step up the national strategy. We need look at not just the number of deaths but also the number of people who are in hospital, and the number of infections,” Albanese said.
More than 95 percent of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated in Australia, which the opposition leader said had helped to reduce the impact of the disease.
“But it’s still a major issue,” Albanese told the National Press Club in Canberra.
Morrison is widely credited with spending huge sums to protect jobs and the economy during the pandemic.
But the prime minister has been criticised by the opposition for a sluggish rollout of vaccines and self-administered rapid antigen tests.