- Sydney-triggered Delta variant outbreak exceeds 1,000 cases
- About 40% of Australia’s population under lockdown orders
- Outbreak highlights concerns over pandemic response
SYDNEY, July 16 (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state prime ministers came under increasing public pressure on Friday to bring under control a rapidly growing Delta variant COVID-19 outbreak that poses the country’s greatest threat for months.
The outbreak has highlighted what critics say are major flaws in Australia’s response to the pandemic – delays in ordering vaccines, out of control guidelines that have led to widespread reluctance over vaccines, overly flexible lockdowns and lax quarantine at the international border.
Authorities reported 103 new cases on Friday, the big one in Sydney and the rest in Melbourne, bringing the total number of cases since the current outbreak started a month ago to more than 1,000. Two people have died, 75 people are hospitalized including 18 in intensive care.
Not huge on a global scale, it was a brutal turnaround for a country that had only experienced small, localized outbreaks for several months.
As of Friday, 40% of the country’s 25 million people – across Sydney, the epicenter of the outbreak and the state of Victoria – were living in some form of lockdown conditions.
A major concern for health officials is the fact that the proportion of people in public while infectious remains stubbornly high despite Sydney residents heading into a fourth week of lockdown.
“I cannot stress to the community my absolute concern that we need to work harder to reduce mobility and reduce our interactions with others,” said Kerry Chant, Health Officer for New South Wales.
The situation fueled criticism of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s approach to the crisis, with some health officials saying she was too slow to impose a lockdown on the crisis. Sydney and didn’t make it hard enough.
Berejiklian, who has already extended the lockdown twice for a total of five weeks, urged people on Friday to follow stay-at-home orders and said she would tighten restrictions if necessary. His government has repeatedly refused to say what businesses and personal movements count as essential, saying people should use “common sense”.
Many home stores and other non-food retailers, which have become hot spots for viruses, have remained open.
The acting chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organizations of Australia, Alexi Boyd, said small businesses were caught “in the crossfire”.
In neighboring Victoria, where the virus traveled to Melbourne from Sydney via a returning family and a team of furniture movers, Prime Minister Daniel Andrews on Thursday evening launched a stricter five-day lockdown, closing all retail stores.
“We had no choice,” Andrews said. “We can see what a thousand cases look like, and we don’t want to. “
The two prime ministers said the number of people in the community while infectious was expected to be close to zero before the restrictions were lifted. Read more
Economists predicted that the Sydney lockdown alone would cost Australia’s $ 2 trillion Australian economy (A $ 1.5 trillion) about A $ 1 billion per week. Read more
DELAYS IN VACCINATION
The fast-growing Delta strain is testing Australia’s previously successful approach of closing its international border, enforcing social distancing rules and quickly tracing contacts. This strategy had kept its exposure relatively low, with just over 31,500 cases and 912 deaths, but cracks are appearing.
Patient zero in the Sydney outbreak was a limo driver in his 60s who was infected while carrying international crews. The driver was not vaccinated, did not wear a mask and was not tested regularly – all of this was allowed at the time.
Morrison is under increasing pressure to speed up a slow vaccination campaign that has vaccinated just over 10% of the population, far below many other developed countries.
While Morrison blamed Pfizer’s (PFE.N) vaccine supply shortages and AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine use restrictions due to rare blood clot links, critics said he was too slow to lock down the supply.
Health experts have linked the reluctance to immunize to changing government advice on who and when to qualify for particular vaccines.
A graphic ad on government television showing a young woman in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator sparked a backlash this week, as people under 40 cannot access a vaccine until it is over. of the year.
($ 1 = AU $ 1.3473)
Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Colin Packham in Canberra; Editing by Chris Reese and Jane Wardell
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