Australia’s Widening Covid-19 Outbreak Forces More Curbs

Millions of Australians were under virus restrictions Sunday to fight a Covid-19 outbreak that includes the highly contagious Delta strain.

While the count of new local cases was comparatively low, including 30 in New South Wales state, officials fearful of the highly contagious variant warned the tally may climb. The flareup puts more pressure on the government to step up a vaccination program that has lagged behind some other developed nations.

“There will be cases that will follow,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a televised briefing Sunday, adding he’s confident the nation will contain the pathogen and that more vaccines are being rolled out.

The restrictions span the country, including a 48-hour lockdown from Sunday in Darwin -- the capital of the Northern Territory -- and another already underway in Sydney through July 9. Other rich nations like the U.S. and U.K. are aiming to move past such steps after ramping up vaccines.

Doses administered so far in Australia are only enough to cover 14% of the population, compared with 50% in the U.S. and 57% in the U.K., according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker.

Australia’s Widening Covid-19 Outbreak Forces More Curbs

The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner said he couldn’t rule out an extension of the Darwin lockdown, which followed the detection of four new local cases in the region. The cluster is linked to a worker at a Newmont Corp. gold mine in the Tanami Desert in the central Northern Territory, and hundreds of employees are now in isolation, according to a statement.

In New South Wales, where Sydney is grappling with the Delta variant, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Sunday “case numbers are likely to increase even beyond what we have seen today.” The state’s 30 new local cases were recorded in the 24 hours through Saturday night, and some of those people were in the community while potentially infectious, Berejiklian said.

Elsewhere, the state of Queensland announced two new local cases and imposed additional curbs to help combat the virus. Restrictions like mask wearing were introduced in Perth in Western Australia after a positive test result. South Australia closed most of its state borders and is considering whether to impose tougher virus curbs for a one-week period.

One area of focus Monday will be the financial-market reaction. Australian shares and the currency have been largely resilient to flareups and movement curbs this year. The S&P/ASX 200 index is up almost 11% in 2021 as loose monetary policy and pandemic support programs shore up economic growth. The Aussie has weakened about 1.4% over the period against the U.S. currency.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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