• The Australian man was in his 20s, received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and had no underlying health conditions
  • Australia experienced a surge in coronavirus cases this week due to the omicron variant
  • Some experts believe the surge, which other countries are also experiencing, will decline in weeks 

A man in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) has died of COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated and having no underlying medical conditions, health officials announced Thursday.

The unnamed man, who was in his 20s and a resident of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), died at St. Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, NSW Health said in a statement.

He was among six coronavirus fatalities, who included five men and one woman in their 20s, 60s, 80s and 90s, announced by the department Thursday.

Another 11 COVID-19-related deaths — six men and five women in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s — were reported by NSW Health Friday.

"NSW Health expresses its sincere condolences to their loved one," the health department said in its most recent report.

Australia has reported a total of 684,227 COVID-19 cases and 2,301 virus-related deaths as of Thursday, government data showed.

A partial count of nationwide cases Thursday saw an excess of 72,000 new infections, which broke the previous record high of 64,774 from the day before, Reuters reported.

Overall, nearly 3,500 people in Australia remain hospitalized due to the virus, with 257 cases being confined to intensive care units and 70 requiring ventilation support, according to government data.

Omicron, which was classified as variant B.1.1.529 after it was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 24 last year, has driven COVID-19 case numbers to new highs worldwide.

It was responsible for this week's surge in cases in Australia's most populous state, NSW, another Reuters report said. The country now has infection rates "far higher" than elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, according to the report.

Some epidemiologists in Australia predict that the worst is yet to come, while other experts believe that the country's surge of omicron infections will be measured in weeks rather than months, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

"The cases are going to rise very, very rapidly and they are going to decline very, very quickly," James McCaw, an epidemiologist and mathematical biologist with the University of Melbourne who did modeling on omicron for the federal government, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

McCaw said this will happen because the virus "spreads to so many people that people who are infected do not meet susceptible people before they recover... so the virus starts to go away again."

"The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. In short, it's going to come fast, and it's going to leave fast," he explained.

Brendan Crabb, head of the Burnet Institute, also said he believes that omicron will "come and go quickly" but noted that "this is not a good thing."

"Speed means more people get it, speed means it's harder to treat those people who get it and speed means struggling healthcare systems," the microbiologist said.

Booster shots will be crucial against omicron, according to University of Sydney infectious diseases expert Robert Booy, as early indications reportedly showed a third dose can halt transmission and provide optimum protection against the new variant.

However, Crabb said everyone must start planning for a permanent pandemic — one where emergency plans can be enacted at the flick of a switch at the first sign of danger — if the world is to live with the coronavirus.

"The narrative that it is OK for us to be infected with Omicron because it’s mild, is profoundly wrong. We must learn from Omicron for the next wave," Crabb said.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the Omicron variant is killing people and overwhelming hospitals
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the Omicron variant is killing people and overwhelming hospitals AFP / Justin TALLIS