Australia PM's ratings take a hit months away from election, poll shows

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison gestures as he makes a statement at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. Alastair Grant/Pool via REUTERS

SYDNEY, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's approval ratings slid after his handling of the Omicron-driven coronavirus outbreak fuelled a backlash, a widely watched poll showed on Tuesday, putting opposition Labor into a leading position months away from a federal election.

Australian voters are losing confidence in Morrison and his Liberal-National Party coalition government on the economy, jobs, health and the response to a fast-moving Omicron wave, according to a poll done by research company Resolve Strategic for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

The survey of 1,607 voters was conducted from Jan. 11 to 15, before an Australian court upheld a government decision to cancel unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic's visa just ahead of the Australian Open.

A medical exemption that allowed the Serbian world No. 1 to enter the country without being vaccinated against COVID-19 sparked fury in Australia, and became a political issue for Morrison.

Morrison has always enjoyed a strong lead over his rival, Labor leader Anthony Albanese, but has lost a double-digit margin he held just two months ago. Around 38% of voters want Morrison as the country's leader, while 31% support Albanese.

Labor has increased its primary vote to 35% from 32% since November, while the ruling coalition's fell five points to 34%.

Morrison, who has to call an election before May, has been fielding criticism over his handling of the Omicron outbreak that has pushed daily infections to record levels, driving up hospitalisation rates and straining health systems.

Instead of reinstating restrictions early this month, he said Australia must "push through" the Omicron wave and relaxed isolation rules for close contacts in a bid to ease the pressure on businesses that are facing staff shortages.

Trailing in polls is not new for Morrison. More than three years ago he had just become prime minister after his predecessor was rolled in a party-room vote, yet he secured a stunning election win in May 2019. read more

Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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