In a race to contain an epidemic of the highly dangerous Delta coronavirus type, Australian officials extended lockdown and social distancing measures to more of the country on Wednesday, with four major cities already under lockdown.
In the wake of COVID-19 flare-ups in multiple regions, one in every two Australians has been ordered to stay at home, with millions more subjected to movement restrictions and mandatory mask wear.
On Wednesday, New South Wales state reported 22 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, all linked to earlier illnesses, with more than five million inhabitants of greater Sydney under a two-week lockdown until July 9.
That was up slightly from the previous two days, but still below the peak of the current outbreak of 30 new cases reported on Sunday.
“New South Wales is demonstrating a steady rate of cases at this stage … but to date our fears about huge escalation haven’t materialized and we certainly want to keep it that way,” state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
With a total of around 170 new locally transmitted cases since the first infection was detected two weeks ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew, NSW is the worst-affected state or territory in the current outbreak.
Residents of Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin were joined in lockdown on Wednesday by those of the outback town of Alice Springs, the gateway to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluru. Officials issued stay-at-home orders for the town after a potentially infected traveler used the airport.
Meanwhile, South Australia confirmed its first locally transmitted cases for 2021, but stopped short of declaring a state of emergency, claiming the threat had been contained.
After officials reported five new cases, including a miner who had returned home from a Northern Territory mine and his wife and children who had been in self-isolation, officials restricted home gatherings and asked people to wear masks in public.
In other parts of Australia, Queensland reported three new locally acquired cases, Western Australia one, and the Northern Territory none.
Singapore announced on Wednesday that Australian holidaymakers will be subjected to a week-long home quarantine beginning on Friday.
Lockdowns, tough social distancing, swift contact tracing and a high community compliance have helped Australia quash prior outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low. It has reported just over 30,550 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.
But less than 5% of its 20 million adult population has been fully vaccinated, leading to criticism of a sluggish national inoculation drive.
After previously preferring Pfizer doses for those under 60 owing to blood clot concerns, the federal government stated on Monday that it will reimburse doctors who provide AstraZeneca vaccination shots to people under 60.
A 52-year-old lady and a 48-year-old woman died as a result of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Queensland state authorities, on the other hand, have stated that they will not support the proposal, claiming that it will put their younger population at danger unnecessarily.
In a press conference, Queensland state Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young remarked, “I don’t want an 18-year-old in Queensland dying from a clotting illness who, if they had COVID, definitely wouldn’t die.”