Australia’s most populous state has declared a “national emergency” as it struggles to contain a record surge in the Delta variant of Covid-19 amid a lockdown affecting half the country.
The state of New South Wales announced 136 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases on Friday, with continued community transmission among essential workers, including in supermarkets and pharmacies.
More than a year after the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, New South Wales has broken records for the number of daily cases on consecutive days, and the city of Sydney is under the most stringent lockdown measures it has ever experienced.
More than 13 million Australians, about half the country’s population, are currently under some form of blockade or restriction, including the states of Victoria and South Australia.
On Friday, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian called for an urgent mass vaccination program in parts of Sydney and warned that the outbreak in the city would endanger the entire country. Despite restrictions that have closed restaurants, pubs and bars, general retail stores, schools, offices, gyms, and sports, and limited the reasons people can leave home, Covid numbers continue to rise.
Berejiklian said the spread was occurring in essential workplaces such as supermarkets and pharmacies, despite mandatory Covid tests every three days for essential workers in the worst affected areas.
Only 12% of the Australian population has been fully vaccinated and ranks last out of 38 OECD countries in vaccination rates.
The state’s health director, Dr. Kerry Chant, said supermarket, logistics and healthcare workers in southwest Sydney, many of whom are under 40, should be vaccinated as a priority.
Currently, the general population under the age of 40 is not eligible to be vaccinated and the federal government has been criticized for not ensuring sufficient supplies of the Pfizer vaccine and other mRNA vaccines.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that he would seek to provide more doses of vaccines to New South Wales when possible, but not at the expense of other states and territories.
“We are not going to disrupt the vaccination program in the rest of the country,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra after one of his regular meetings with state and territorial leaders.
But in an attempt to ensure that more people in New South Wales received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine as soon as possible, Morrison revealed that clinics in the state would extend the gap to six weeks before people received the second dose.
When asked if he agreed with his colleague from New South Wales’s description of the current situation as a national emergency, Morrison said that he had been treating Covid-19 in this way since the pandemic began earlier in the year. past.
Australia, which was previously a world leader in eliminating Covid, with strict border controls and months of zero community-acquired cases, has plunged into various forms of lockdown triggered by Delta variant cases.
On Friday, the state of Victoria reported 14 new locally acquired cases and South Australia recorded two during the previous 24 hours.
New Zealand announced that it would close its non-quarantine travel bubble with Australia for the next two months, saying that the New Zealand outbreak “was clearly not under control.”
Neighboring Asian countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand, are also battling Delta outbreaks that are causing a much higher total of cases and deaths.
Indonesia reported 49,500 new cases and 1,449 deaths on Thursday, a record since the pandemic began. Thailand reported 13,655 new cases and 87 deaths, also a record.
In Australia, Morrison publicly apologized for the slow launch of the vaccine on Thursday.
He was “unhappy” with the status of the vaccination program, blaming it on early disruptions in the country’s AstraZeneca supply and changes in advice from the Australian Independent Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (Atagi) on who should receive the AstraZeneca. vaccine.
Atagi said in April that Pfizer was “preferred” to AstraZeneca for those under 50 years of age because of a very low risk of blood clotting. This advice was later updated to include people under the age of 60.
However, the advisory group also said at the time that AstraZeneca could be given to younger people when “the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks” and “the person has made an informed decision.”
The group said: “While Australia currently has very low or no community transmission of Covid-19, this could change, particularly in the context of high global transmission rates, including new variants of the virus.
“The risk of serious illness and death in Australia persists, even as border controls and other measures continue.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism