People queue in their cars for a COVID-19 test at JJ Clancy Reserve, Kilmore.

The new year has started with COVID-19 again causing chaos as the Omicron variant produces a surge in case numbers across Australia, affecting businesses and daily life across the region.

It is estimated more than 500,000 people across Australia now have COVID-19.

Victoria recorded a further 34,808 cases yesterday, with two deaths, and 818 people in hospital including 118 in intensive care.

As of yesterday, there are 196 active cases in the Mitchell Shire, and 341 in the Macedon Ranges, with 4108 in the neighbouring Hume and 3149 in the City of Whittlesea local government areas.

The surge in cases put extreme pressure on polymerase chain reaction, PCR, testing sites last week, including Kilmore District Health’s JJ Clancy Reserve site.

Rules regarding testing changed last week, with people now requiring only a rapid antigen test, RAT, not a PCR test, to diagnose if they had COVID-19.

People with COVID-19, and their household contacts, must immediately isolate for seven days and notify their contacts.

However RAT tests are in short supply, with supermarkets and pharmacies receiving only minimal stock supply. Some PCR testing sites now have RAT tests available.

The surge in case numbers comes as children aged five to 12 are now eligible be vaccinated and others are encouraged to receive their third doses, or boosters.

Kilmore District Health, KDH, has reminded people to pre-book vaccination appointments online or by telephone as demand for both vaccines and tests continues to surge.

KDH acting chief executive Jen Gilham said people had attempted to walk into the health service’s vaccination clinic without an appointment, and seeking tests.

“At this time we’re not taking walk-ins or making appointments for vaccinations on site,” she said.

“People really need to either book an appointment online or call the state number 1800 675 398 to book in. For now booking online is probably the preferred way of making an appointment for a vaccination.”

Ms Gilham said between 160 and 180 vaccination appointments were made each day at KDH. The health service also has special paediatric vaccination clinics scheduled.

She said demand for PCR tests at the drive-through site at JJ Clancy Reserve had also been high, with more than 2000 tests completed in the first week of 2022, including 1500 in four days last week.

“Our staff are working hard to provide testing and vaccination services to our community,” she said.  

“We’re still doing our PCR testing at the drive-through site, we still have our home-monitoring program for people who have tested positive, we still have our vaccination clinic running, we’re still looking after our aged-care residents, maternity services are still running, and urgent care is still open for any emergency presentations.”

Ms Gilham said when KDH had RAT tests available to the community they would make it public via its website.

“There is a delay in getting results, so we’d ask that people be patient,” she said. 

“I would like to thank our staff and the community for supporting us. Generally people have been patient and really supportive of the staff, which has been fantastic.

“We’ll keep the community up to date via our Facebook page and our website.”

It is understood isolating staff members is putting pressure on staffing across all KDH services. Non-urgent elective surgery has been temporarily reduced for public and private hospitals in across Victoria, including KDH.

It is strongly recommended that if possible people undertake a RAT prior to visiting aged care facilities or hospitals.

The government’s new pandemic orders also require a density quotient of one person per two square metres in hospitality venues across Victoria.

The large number of people isolating is forcing many businesses to either close or reduce opening hours due to staff shortages, including Mac’s Hotel and Born Free Clothing in Kilmore, and Big Thumb Noodle Wallan

Staffing issues is also causing problems with produce supply to supermarkets, and sufficient staffing levels in the heathcare sector.

The Victorian Liberal Nationals have called on the State Government to remove the isolation requirement for fully vaccinated Victorians living with a COVID positive case.

They would like to see changes that mirror those implemented in New South Wales, Queensland and the United Kingdom, where a person living with a COVID positive case is required to take a RAT test every day for seven days and isolate only if any of the tests are positive.