Half of Australians under lockdown again as COVID-19 cases surge
Until recently, Australia had been praised for its strict lockdowns, lengthy border closures, and quarantine norms over COVID-19. But outbreaks of the highly-contagious Delta variant have changed that scenario. Infections are rising significantly in several states and more than half of the Australian population is again under lockdown. A sluggish vaccination program has further increased frustration among the Aussies.
South Australia on Tuesday became the third and latest state to join Victoria and parts of New South Wales in imposing a lockdown. Residents of that state will see restrictions for seven days after five Delta variant cases were found. Authorities in two of the country's biggest cities - Sydney and Melbourne - are unsure about when they would reopen.
Australia's two largest states witnessed sharp surges in new cases on Wednesday. New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported 110 fresh infections, up from 78 the day before, despite nearly four weeks of lockdown in and around the city. The state of Victoria, meanwhile, saw 22 new cases, its biggest one-day increase since the outbreak began earlier this month.
"Had we not gone into the lockdown a few weeks ago, the 110 number today would undoubtedly have been thousands and thousands," said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. "But we need to work harder and, of course, all of us need to be on guard."
Australia's vaccine roll-out has been marred by hesitancy and supply issues. Just above 11% of the population has been fully vaccinated. Many are reluctant to take AstraZeneca's vaccine over a rare clotting risk, while there are limited supplies of Pfizer vaccine. "We have done as much as is humanly possible but the issue is we need more vaccines," said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.
However, Australia has performed much better than many other developed countries in keeping the coronavirus cases and fatalities relatively low. The country has reported just above 32,000 cases and 915 deaths so far.