For the first time since the worldwide epidemic began, Australia’s new daily cases of COVID-19 surpassed 1,000 on Thursday, prompting two major Sydney hospitals to set up emergency outside tents to deal with the influx of patients.
Even after two months under lockdown, Sydney, the country’s largest city and the heart of the current outbreak, is failing to contain a rise in the fast-spreading Delta strain, with daily infections reaching record levels.
The state of New South Wales (NSW), whose capital is Sydney, recorded 1,029 new locally acquired cases, breaking the previous record of 919 set a day earlier. In Greater Sydney, 969 new cases were discovered, up from 838 before.
The rapid rise in COVID-19 patients has forced Sydney’s Westmead and Blacktown hospitals, which service the city’s sprawling western suburbs, to erect tents to screen and swab patients to help manage capacity.
The makeshift unit in the emergency department for COVID-19 patients will help “to offload delays”, a Western Sydney Local Health District spokesperson told Reuters.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities had quadrupled the number of the state’s intensive care ventilators to 2,000 early last year. Although the system is “under pressure”, it can withstand the current crisis once vaccination rates rise, she said.
“It might be different to the help you got before because of the situation, but please know the system is kicking in,” Berejiklian said at a televised media conference.
Of 116 people in intensive care in NSW, 102 are not vaccinated. Three new deaths were reported, including a man in his 30s who died at home, taking deaths from the latest outbreak to 79, although the death rate has slowed since last year.
In a video posted on Twitter Wednesday night, the Australian Paramedic Association said paramedics were given a choice to wait in their vehicles with infected people or “wait outside in the freezing rain” due to the rise in patients.
The fast-moving Delta strain has taken the gloss off Australia’s early success against the virus that kept its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with some 47,700 cases and 989 deaths. About 32% of people above 16 have been fully vaccinated while just over 54% have had at least one dose.
Besides Sydney, the country’s second-largest city, Melbourne, and capital, Canberra, are also in hard lockdowns, putting more than half of the country’s 25 million population under strict stay-at-home orders.
Cases in Victoria, home to Melbourne, surged to 80 on Thursday, up from 45 a day earlier.
The federal government is pushing ahead with plans to reopen the country if vaccination rates reach 70 percent to 80 percent, but given the fast increase of infections in Sydney, several states have suggested that they may postpone.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian claimed the state’s vaccination rate may hit 70% by mid-October, while airline Qantas indicated it was prepared to restart foreign travel in December.
Lockdowns boosted demand for home goods, according to Woolworths Group, which announced a rise in yearly earnings on Thursday.