Australia's Queensland state says peak of Omicron two weeks away

Commuters wear protective face masks as they enter Central Station following the implementation of new public health regulations from the state of New South Wales, as the city grapples with an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia reported 64 deaths from COVID-19 on Saturday, as the most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), said the Omicron COVID-19 variant would not delay the start of the school year.

NSW reported 30 deaths of patients with COVID-19, while Victoria state saw 20 deaths, and Queensland reported 10 deaths.

The national toll of 64 was down from its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic on Friday, when 86 people died.

The school year starts in just over a week for the two biggest states, NSW and Victoria, which are preparing plans for students to return to classrooms.

A NSW health official urged parents to vaccinate children before they return to school. Vaccination bookings for 5 to 11 year olds have only been available in Australia for two weeks, a schedule that means most children will not have had two doses before classes start.

"There is no doubt there are going to be challenges as we open schools," NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said on Saturday.

Queensland, recording 15,050 new cases, said it was two weeks behind NSW which is believed to have reached a peak in the Omicron outbreak, recording 20,148 new cases on Saturday.

Queensland health officials said the data affirmed a decision to delay the start of school in the northern state by two weeks to avoid the peak of COVID-19 cases.

A day earlier, the vast mining state of Western Australia cancelled plans to reopen its borders on Feb. 5, citing health risks from a surge in COVID-19 in eastern states.

Nationally, around 55,000 new cases were reported on Saturday, compared to seven in Western Australia.

All states and territories, except Western Australia, have reopened their internal borders under a policy of living with COVID-19, despite a record surge in cases. Western Australia had been due to follow suit next month.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham)

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