The Northern Territory has reported 1004 COVID-19 cases as hospitals cancel elective surgery to make room for more virus patients.
More infected Territorians were admitted to hospital overnight, bringing the total number of COVID-19 patients to 148 on Friday, up from 141 a day earlier.
Sixteen of these require oxygen and six “are really sick receiving acute care in an [intensive care unit]”, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.
“These are the people we are seriously worried about.”
Mr Gunner warned the number of infected patients in intensive care would rise in coming days.
“For this reason, in line with other jurisdictions, we are pausing elective and day surgery in our hospitals to help our clinicians manage the current COVID cases and prepare for a potential increase in the next few weeks,” he said.
Mr Gunner also called out “people, some with very loud voices, who would like you to think that every case of COVID is a catastrophe and everybody should be taken out of their home and put into a hospital”.
“Their heart is in the right place but a response like that would be the medical equivalent of panic buying.”
He defended his government’s handling of the pandemic, saying it had delayed the virus’s arrival and given Territorians the opportunity to get vaccinated.
“We now have widespread transmission of Omicron throughout the territory just as we expected and we are managing it,” he said.
“If we treated every positive case as acute then the people who are actually seriously ill … would not get the care they need.”
It came amid a storm of criticism from Aboriginal groups about the Gunner government’s pandemic response in remote communities – where case numbers have skyrocketed since Omicron arrived during Christmas.
Multiple communities remain locked-in or locked down in difficult conditions, such as overcrowded housing. It has been made worse by wet season flooding, which has cut roads and left many running short of basic supplies, including food.
The number of active cases in the territory is 7094, with Mr Gunner saying, “at least those are the ones that we know about”.
“There are no doubt more than that.”
Meanwhile, the Opposition said it was “baffled” the government had allegedly refused a request from NT Foodbank for food and essential supplies, which are reportedly running low in central Australia after the highway and train line from South Australia was cut by flooding.
Spokesman Josh Burgoyne said the Commonwealth had agreed to provide support so long as Territory Controller Jamie Chalker approved it. But he allegedly refused the request, saying it was not required.
Mr Burgoyne also said the NT government department Territory Families had ignored Mr Chalker’s order “not to panic buy, or stockpile” and “bought out most of the supplies” in central Australia.
“The Chief Minister needs to explain how one of his own agencies has cleaned out essential supplies and why he’s ignored calls for federal support,” he said.
The NT reported 1217 infections on Wednesday and 1279 on Thursday.
Two people have also died in recent days, bringing the territory’s virus death toll to four.
Mr Gunner also announced the reintroduction of financial support for NT businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic.
It includes a three-month payroll tax rebate, grants of up to $3000 and utility bill reductions.