Australian PM’s Popularity Slumps Amid Pandemic Lockdowns
(Bloomberg) -- Australians’ approval of Prime Minister Scott Morrison has fallen to the lowest level since the pandemic began, with voters wearying of virus-induced lockdowns amid his government’s tardy vaccine rollout.
Support for Morrison’s handling of the crisis has fallen from 85% in April last year -- when his conservative government imposed strict border controls that helped keep virus fatalities to less than 1,000 -- to 48%, according to a Newspoll survey published in the Australian newspaper on Monday.
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On the question of who would make the better prime minister, which traditionally favors incumbents, Morrison’s lead over the opposition’s Anthony Albanese also slid to the lowest level since the pandemic began. Government lawmakers may be getting jittery about the key measure of voters’ party preference: Labor maintains a 6-point lead over the ruling coalition, 53% to 47%, ahead of an election due by May.
Albanese has attacked Morrison’s handling of the pandemic, blaming the government for failing to adjust the hotel-quarantine system for returning residents, which has seen at least 20 leaks of coronavirus into local communities this year. He also criticized Morrison for not signing sufficient contracts for vaccines with a wide enough range of suppliers.
The government says its vaccine rollout is ramping up and all adults will be offered a jab this year. Yet in the meantime, Australians remain vulnerable to snap lockdowns, with the nation’s two largest cities currently under stay-at-home orders.
While countries such as the U.S. and U.K. have largely opened up with more than half their populations fully vaccinated, just 17% of Australians have received two jabs, among the lowest levels in the developed world.
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Sydney is currently in its seventh week of lockdown, with the race to increase vaccinations now key to prospects for an easing of restrictions. The delta variant of coronavirus is placing increased pressure on Australia’s so-called “Covid-zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus.
New South Wales state recorded 283 new cases on Monday, the vast bulk in Sydney, after posting a record 319 infections on Saturday. Meanwhile, Melbourne recorded 11 new cases on Monday, with regional Victoria state to exit its lockdown from midnight.
The creeping spread of the variant into regional New South Wales was highlighted by authorities announcing that Tamworth -- an inland city of about 60,000 people that’s 250 miles north of Sydney -- will be placed into a seven-day lockdown. Later Monday, Byron Shire and surrounding areas including the cities of Ballina and Lismore followed with their own weeklong stay-at-home orders.
Announcing that the Moderna vaccine has received provisional approval for use by Australian authorities, Morrison told reporters in Canberra Monday that he understood why frustration is growing among people in lockdown.
“I know they’re sick of it, I know they’re angry, I know they want it to stop,” Morrison said. “But there are no shortcuts here. Delta has made it clear with this virus that we have to get through the suppression phase and keep it at bay as best as we can.”
The Newspoll survey was conducted among 1,527 voters across Australia from Aug. 4-7.
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