SYDNEY, July 21 (Reuters) – Australia’s two largest states reported a sharp rise in new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, a blow to hopes that lockdown restrictions would be lifted as more than half of the country’s population are under orders would stay for the stay at home.
The state of New South Wales (NSW), home of the country’s most populous city, Sydney, reported 110 new cases, up from 78 the previous day, nearly four weeks after the city and surrounding areas were locked down to contain an outbreak of the virulent Delta variant .
The state of Victoria recorded 22 new cases, up from nine the previous day, the largest increase since the outbreak began this month as it approaches its second week of statewide lockdown.
“If we hadn’t gone into lockdown a few weeks ago, the 110 would undoubtedly have been thousands and thousands today,” NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said at a televised press conference.
“But we have to work harder and of course we all have to be careful,” she added.
Health leaders have said their biggest concern is the number of people active in the community prior to receiving their coronavirus diagnosis and that the number should be close to zero before the lockdown is lifted.
Berejiklian said the number rose to 43 on Wednesday, double the previous day, and she couldn’t say until the following week if the city would exit the lockdown by July 30.
Overnight, NSW added three regional centers, approximately 250 km (150 miles) from Sydney, to the restricted areas list after a driver tested positive for animal feed deliveries there, raising fears of local transmission.
“We know who is walking through the door every day, but even the locals who come in shop for about four days instead of every single day,” said Cameron Cassel, butcher in Blayney, Population 3,000.
Victorian authorities meanwhile said 16 of the 22 new cases were in quarantine during their infection period, while exposure sites for the remaining six were “reasonably low”.
“That should give us all a measure of confidence and hope that this response … works,” said Victorian Health Secretary Martin Foley.
A third state, South Australia, home to 1.8 million, went into the first full day of a week-long lockdown on Wednesday, reporting six more cases. Continue reading
A year and a half after the pandemic, around 13 million Australians have been severely banned, putting pressure on the federal government, whose polls have hit their lowest levels in a year due to a sluggish vaccination program. Just over 11% of the population is fully vaccinated.
The main vaccine in the government’s arsenal, developed by AstraZeneca Plc (AZN.L), was only recommended for people over the age of 60 because of the low risk of blood clotting, while a vaccine from Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) was limited to over 40 years due to the limited supply.
Under mounting pressure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Wednesday that he was taking responsibility for both “unfortunate” delays in introducing vaccination into the country and solutions to make up for lost ground.
“These delays are unfortunate, we all know they are the result of many factors,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“I take responsibility for the problems we have had, but I also take responsibility for the solutions that we implement and the vaccination rates that we are now achieving.”
He said his government had asked its independent panel of experts, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization, to relax its conservative advice on using the AstraZeneca vaccine.
While the sluggish introduction of vaccines has frustrated voters, the introduction of shutdowns has also taken a $ 2 trillion ($ 1.5 trillion) toll on Australia’s economy, which is back to pre-2020 levels after the initial upheaval in early 2020 Pandemic had risen.
Data released on Wednesday showed retail sales fell 1.8% in June from the previous month, almost four times the decline predicted by economists. Continue reading
Morrison also said there would be a “significant impact” on the GDP numbers, which will be released in early September, though he said the advice from the Central Bank of Australia suggested the toll would be eased in the following quarter.
Australia has managed better than many other developed economies to keep COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 32,100 cases and 915 deaths.
($ 1 = 1.3684 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; additional coverage from Colin Packham and Paulina Duran; Arrangement by Sam Holmes, Richard Pullin & Shri Navratnam
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