On Tuesday, New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populated state, reported a small increase in locally acquired COVID-19 cases, while officials strengthened controls to suppress flare-ups of the highly contagious Delta form in several other locations.
An epidemic related to the variation has expanded to over 150 cases in Sydney, the state’s capital. Fears that the strain would spark significant outbreaks have resulted in lockdowns in three major cities and some kind of curfew in many more, impacting more than 20 million Australians, or around 80% of the population.
Perth, capital of Western Australia, began a four-day lockdown starting Tuesday, joining Sydney and Darwin. Queensland will impose a snap three-day lockdown in capital Brisbane and some neighbouring regions from Tuesday evening.
“The risk is real and we need to act quickly, we need to go hard, we need to go fast,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. The state reported two new local cases.
Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, is under a two-week lockdown until July 9 while the lockdown in the northern city of Darwin was extended for another 72 hours until Friday. Tough restrictions, including mandatory masks and fewer gatherings, are in place elsewhere.
NSW reported 19 new locally acquired illnesses, based on a record 67,000 tests, compared to 18 cases the day before.
To combat infections, Australia stated late Monday that it will boost COVID-19 vaccines, including required injections for high-risk aged-care workers and staff in quarantine hotels, as well as make the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine available to individuals under the age of 60.
Due to blood clot concerns, officials previously restricted the use of the AstraZeneca shot to individuals over the age of 60, while promoting Pfizer injections to everyone under the age of 60, in a dramatic shift that delayed Australia’s immunisation campaign.
Authorities have now said that anyone under the age of 60 may request the AstraZeneca vaccination if authorised by their physicians, who will be covered by a no-fault indemnity plan similar to that seen elsewhere.
According to health experts, the AstraZeneca vaccine provides a high degree of protection against COVID-19, and the advantages significantly exceed the dangers.
Lockdowns, rapid contact tracking, and strong social distancing regulations have helped Australia keep COVID-19 numbers reasonably low, with little over 30,500 cases and 910 fatalities, despite repeated setbacks in vaccine deployment.