Australia prolongs COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria amid Delta outbreak

·3-min read

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian authorities said Victoria state would extend a COVID-19 lockdown beyond Tuesday to slow the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant, despite a slight drop in new infections in the state and nationwide.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said lockdown rules would not be lifted as cases were still being detected in the community, promising more details would be provided on Tuesday, when the lockdown had been due to end.

"It would be perhaps a few days of sunshine and then there is a very high chance that we'd be back in lockdown again. That's what I'm trying to avoid," Andrews told a news conference in Melbourne, the state capital.

Victoria, the country's second most populous state, on Monday reported 13 locally acquired cases, down from 16 a day earlier. All new local cases are linked.

Nearly half of Australia's 25 million people are living under lockdowns imposed to quell an outbreak fuelled by the highly transmissable Delta variant, which has become the worst this year.

Sydney, the country's largest city and the state capital of New South Wales, is set to end a five-week lockdown on July 30, though the end-date has been pushed back twice already.

New South Wales reported the death of a woman in her 50s on Monday, taking the state's death toll to five during the latest outbreak. The state logged 98 new locally-acquired cases, down from 105 a day earlier.

At least 20 of the new cases were infectious while still in the community. NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a televised media conference that the "closer we get that number to zero, the sooner we can end the lockdown."

There are currently 82 people in hospitals, with 24 in intensive care, seven of whom require ventilation.

Berejiklian said the state would not see the effects of the hard lockdown for "another four or five days" and pleaded with people not mingle with extended family as most infections are occurring within families.

Breaches of social distancing rules in Sydney prompted state police to begin "high-visibility patrols" along the coast, including the popular tourist spots of Bondi and Manly.

And controversial British commentator Katie Hopkins was set to be deported after posting a video on Instagram in which she joked about answering the door naked and maskless to people delivering meals while she was in quarantine in a Sydney hotel.

"To think that she could think that the measures we are taking to keep our community safe can be treated with such juvenile, imbecile behaviour is mind boggling," NSW state Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters.

South Australia state tightened restrictions on Monday afternoon, cancelling large events and closing indoor dining, gyms and non essential retail, one step short of issuing a full lockdown. The state reported three cases of local transmission on Monday.

VACCINE ROLLOUT

Swift contact tracing, and public compliance with tough social distancing rules and lockdowns have helped Australia quash past outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low. Since the pandemic first struck more than a year ago, Australia has reported over 31,900 cases including 915 deaths.

Vaccination has been slow however, with just 13% of adults fully vaccinated. The country could suffer more stop-and-start lockdowns until vaccination coverage becomes far higher towards the end of the year, experts have said.

A poll by the Australian newspaper showed unhappiness with the slow immunisation drive was a factor behind Prime Minister Scott Morrison's approval ratings falling to their lowest in more than a year.

Australia took delivery overnight of nearly one million Pfizer vaccine doses, officials said, after the federal government reached an agreement to bring forward weekly shipments scheduled from September, tripling the current supply.

(Reporting by Renju Jose. Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne ; Editing by Diane Craft, Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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