New South Wales reported a record high number of covid cases on Tuesday despite more than four weeks of lockdown for the Sydney region, with signs tough measures could extend until September.
“Vaccination is the key to our freedom. Getting jabs in arms is a key part of our strategy,” said state premier Gladys Berejiklian. “I want August to be the month where everyone comes forward to get the jab. That is key to us being able to see what September looks like. I don’t think anyone can deny that the vaccination rate is absolutely key to how we live life in NSW.”
The lockdown had been due to end on Saturday but with less than 13% of the state’s population fully vaccinated, curbs in some form were expected to remain.
More than half of Australia’s population of nearly 26 million has been in lockdown after an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant took hold in the state of New South Wales and spread to three others.
New South Wales reported 172 Covid cases in the past 24 hours, up from 145 a day earlier, with at least 60 in the community while infectious. Two more deaths were also reported: both were unvaccinated women in their 80s, said Berejiklian.
The epicentre of the outbreak in Sydney has now shifted towards the city’s west. One block of 50 flats was locked down and placed under police guard after six residents across several households tested positive. All residents of the block in Blacktown are being tested, with food and other services being provided for the 14-day quarantine period.
The cases had been linked to a funeral gathering a week ago, attended by about 50 people. It has led to at least 28 infections.
Measures have also been taken at two Sydney hospitals, after two nurses and a student nurse tested positive. Eight patients have since been diagnosed with Covid-19. The nursing staff were partially vaccinated.
On Tuesday, tens of thousands of Covid nasal test swabs were being flown from hotspots in Sydney to be processed in other states, with labs in New South Wales “drowning” from record testing turnouts, according to a health worker involved in private pathology.
There are also concerns about a potential rise in cases as a result of the weekend’s anti-lockdown protests – fomented by German-based conspiracy group. State health official Jeremy McAnulty saying on Tuesday: “Whenever we get people in crowds who shouting or yelling, no social distancing that is a very dangerous situation for the transmission of Covid.”
The state did however lift lockdown for three regional areas, starting on Wednesday.
In another blow for Australia’s bungled rollout, it was revealed that one of the federal government’s key vaccine deals has been hit with major delays, with 51m doses of Novavax originally due to arrive in the second half of this year now not expected until 2022. The doses will now form part of the government’s booster strategy.
Elsewhere, the states of Victoria and South Australia announced that they would lift their own lockdowns after bringing smaller outbreaks under control.
Victoria said most of the restrictions it imposed on 15 July would be removed from Wednesday after recording just 10 infections of people already in quarantine. “All in all, this is a good day,” state Premier Daniel Andrews said in Melbourne. He said that lifting the lockdown “sends a clear message that we have seen off two Delta outbreaks. I don’t think there’s a jurisdiction in the world that has been able to achieve that.”
Victoria’s 5 million residents will now be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen, though households will not be permitted to have visitors, Andrews said.
Lockdowns have raised the prospect of Australia recording its second recession in as many years, though treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday talk of this was premature. Frydenberg said last week the country’s $2tn (US$1.5tn) economy is expected to shrink in the latest GDP figures, with lockdowns costing about $300m daily.
Swift contact tracing, tough social distancing rules and lockdowns have helped Australia to keep its case numbers low, with just under 33,100 cases and 920 deaths since the pandemic first appeared.
– with Reuters