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Covid-19: Half of Australia’s population in lockdown as Delta variant spreads – Eagles Vine

SYDNEY: More than 12 million Australians — close to half of the population — are now in lockdown as the nation struggles to contain a spread of the delta coronavirus variant.
On Tuesday, Brisbane became Australia’s fourth regional capital city to restrict movement outside of homes except for essential reasons such as shopping and exercise for at least three days, less than 24 hours after a similar move in Perth. They followed Sydney and Darwin, which over the weekend announced longer lockdowns of up to two weeks.
The outbreaks are ramping up pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to increase the pace of a tardy vaccine rollout. The delta variant is leaking out of the nation’s hotels being used for quarantine, with the current outbreaks also linked to mining workers and airline crew who have traveled around the nation.
The clusters show the limits of Australia’s so-called “Covid-zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus. While nations such as the UK and US are preparing to open up their economies after widespread vaccinations, a slow rollout in Australia means the economy, and particularly domestic tourism, remains vulnerable.
While international borders are closed to most, Queensland and Victoria state leaders have asked Morrison’s government to reduce the number of arrivals into the nation until dedicated quarantine facilities are built or a large proportion of the population are vaccinated. The nation’s current system has proven unable to contain the delta variant, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“Right around the country right now there is a lot going on with this pandemic,” Miles said. The outbreaks could all “be traced back to international arrivals. In fact, every day we have new cases in hotel quarantine from people who have traveled from overseas. Our international borders are supposed to be closed.”
The Queensland capital city of Brisbane, along with other areas of Southeast Queensland state including the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast and the more remote regions of Townsville city, Palm Island and Magnetic Island, will enter a three-day lockdown from 6pm Tuesday.
“We need to go hard and we need to go fast,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday after two new local cases were recorded from the previous day. “There will be a lockdown for three days and I don’t want it to be 30 days.”
In a late night press conference in Perth on Monday, Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan announced a snap four-day lockdown for that city — the nation’s unofficial resources capital — after a woman returned to the city from Sydney while infectious.
Contact tracers around the nation are battling to keep up with a growing list of exposure sites, including some domestic Virgin Australia flights after a cabin crew member tested positive. Meanwhile, an outbreak at a mining site in a remote region of the Outback in central Australia has raised fears that the nation’s indigenous population is at the greatest risk since the pandemic began.
In response to the clusters emerging around Australia, states and territories are reimposing domestic border restrictions, while a quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand has been suspended.
The outbreak in Sydney now numbers about 150 cases, with 19 more infections announced by New South Wales state on Tuesday.
‘Scariest period’
“Since the pandemic has started, this is perhaps the scariest period that New South Wales is going through,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of Australia’s most-populous state, told reporters last week.
PM Morrison, who is self-isolating after traveling to Europe this month to meet leaders attending the G-7 summit, has lauded the government’s record in tackling the virus.
“The world is amazed at how Australia has been able to both save lives and save livelihoods,” he told viewers of a popular morning-television program on Thursday. “We are keeping our economy growing and we’re keeping people safe.”
But criticism is mounting.
Ahead of elections due to be held by May, the main opposition Labor party is on the attack, criticizing the government for being too slow in securing vaccines and not reaching out to enough drugmakers.
Labor also blames Morrison for failing to improve a quarantine system in which residents returning from overseas spend 14 days in mandatory isolation in city-center hotels. Labor says there have been 24 instances in which the virus has leaked into the community via infected security guards or cleaners. Travelers have also caught the virus while in quarantine, possibly due to poor ventilation systems, and only tested positive after being released.
“They had two jobs this year: vaccination and quarantine,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese told parliament last month. “They have botched both.”
Should more cities enter lockdown and restrictions linger, that could have real political implications. A Newspoll published in the Australian newspaper on Monday showed Morrison’s conservative coalition slipping 2 percentage points to trail Labor, 49% to 51%.
“The perception is becoming increasingly one of a government managing crisis, not the nation,” said Andrew Hughes, a political analyst at Canberra’s Australian National University.
The slow vaccine rollout — along with criticism of its policies on gender equality and climate change — mean “the government is going from a likely winning position at the next election to where there are now real doubts if its record on economic management will be enough to keep it from losing office,” he said.
Peter Collignon, a specialist in infectious diseases at ANU’s Medical School, said the hotel quarantine system and shuttered international border had been very successful in curbing the spread of the virus.
Still, for at least the next three months until the end of winter “we are going to have to live with restrictions of some degree in order to get control of this,” he said.


timesofindia.indiatimes.com

The Times of India

The Times of India is an Indian English-language daily newspaper and digital news media owned and managed by The Times Group. According to Audit Bureau of Circulations, it is ranked 9th in the world by circulation and 3rd in India.

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