Delta Worsens in Australia, N.Z.; Victoria Expands Lockdown
Australia’s reported its highest daily number of new Covid-19 cases, with infections in New South Wales jumping almost 30% in one day and the spreading delta variant outbreak forcing neighboring Victoria state to expand its lockdown beyond the city of Melbourne.
New South Wales recorded 825 cases on Saturday, up from 642 on Friday, while three people had died, according to the state government. Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters that concern remains high in relation to western New South Wales, where the outbreak is spreading into vulnerable indigenous communities.
Victoria reported 61 new cases on Saturday, according to a tweet from the state’s health department, while the Australian Capital Territory had eight. The national total number of total infections rose to 894, surpassing the previous daily high of 754 two days earlier.
The spike in cases comes amid anti-lockdown demonstrations in cities across the country. Protesters flooded into the center of Melbourne Saturday, some clashing with police, local media reported. Smaller rallies were held in Brisbane and Sydney, where a heavy police presence preventing large numbers from gathering.
In New Zealand, a further 21 local cases were reported, 18 of which were in Auckland and three in Wellington. All of the infections were genomically linked to the first case reported in Auckland on Tuesday, Director of Public Health Caroline McElnay said.
The outbreaks are placing unprecedented pressure on the so-called Covid Zero strategy pursued by both Australia and New Zealand since the start of the pandemic. By closing borders and eliminating cases of community transmission leaking into their countries through strict lockdown measures, they have avoided the waves of deaths seen in most other nations.
The highly infectious nature of the delta variant of the coronavirus is starting to make some authorities’ hopes of maintaining their Covid Zero status in the long-term look unfeasible. Focus is instead turning on boosting tardy inoculation rates, said New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
In Australia’s Victoria State, Premier Daniel Andrews put regional Victoria into lockdown Saturday due to the large number of mystery cases, and a surge of new infections and exposures at sites outside of metropolitan Melbourne. Curfew restrictions will not apply beyond Melbourne.
“This is not where we wanted to be as a community. It’s not a decision we wanted to make after Victorians have sacrificed so much, but we have no other option,” Andrews said in a statement. “Cases need to be lower and vaccination rates need to be higher.”
Andrews also announced measures to slow the rate of transmission in young people, where the number of infections continues to rise. All childcare centers across the state will be closed except for vulnerable children or those of authorized workers.
Victoria’s public health team strongly recommended that primary school children wear masks.
The expansion of Victoria’s lockdown follows Sydney’s, which was extended until at least the end of September and with a mandate for masks to be worn outside from Monday -- except when exercising -- in all regions throughout the state. In New Zealand, where authorities have linked Sydney’s outbreak to 51 local cases, the country’s initial three-day nationwide lockdown was extended until at least Tuesday.
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