CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) – About two-thirds of Australia’s population is in lockdown as the delta variant spreads across the nation, with authorities in Melbourne enforcing stay-at-home orders for the sixth time since the pandemic began.
Melbourne and the rest of Victoria state will enter a seven-day lockdown from 8 pm local time on Thursday (Aug 5), Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters.
The nation’s second-largest city last year endured one of the world’s longest and strictest lockdowns, and only emerged from its most recent one on July 28.
Sydney, meanwhile, has issued stay-at-home orders until at least August 28.
“The advice to me from the experts if we were to wait even just a few days, there is every chance that instead of being locked down for a week, this gets away from us and we are potentially locked down until we all get vaccinated,” Mr Andrews said.
The lockdowns show the limits of Australia’s so-called “Covid-zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus.
Its economy, particularly the domestic tourism and retail sectors, is increasingly being hit by the outbreaks.
The move by Melbourne authorities comes on the same day that New South Wales state reported 262 new infections – a record number since the highly contagious variant leaked into Sydney’s community in mid-June.
Five more people died, and four of them weren’t vaccinated, Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in the city, which has been in lockdown for almost six weeks.
The outbreak’s spread to other regions of New South Wales saw Berejiklian on Thursday announce that the Hunter Valley region – including Newcastle, a city of around 500,000 people – will be placed into a one-week lockdown.
“Every jurisdiction around the world is finding delta challenging,” Berejiklian said. “We can try and eliminate it but we know the vaccine is critical to stopping the spread.”
Australia’s federal government said last week the country would begin reopening and start to avoid snap lockdowns once 70 per cent of the entire adult population had been fully vaccinated.
Plans to reopen have been hampered by a tardy vaccine roll-out, with only enough doses to cover 25 per cent of the population administered.
Even as other developed economies like the US and UK open up, Australia is further isolating after imposing strict border restrictions when the pandemic began early last year.
The slow vaccine drive – which has placed renewed criticism on Prime Minister Scott Morrison ahead of elections due by May – has made it particularly vulnerable to the delta variant, which is increasingly leaking out of the quarantine system for international arrivals.
The lockdowns show the limits of Australia’s so-called “Covid-zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus. Its economy, particularly the domestic tourism and retail sectors, is increasingly being hit by the outbreaks.
Queensland state recorded 16 new cases in the community on Thursday, and it was unclear whether Brisbane and other regions there would exit lockdown as planned on Sunday.
Eleven other infections were detected aboard a LNG tanker off the city of Gladstone, authorities said.
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