Half of Australia’s Population in Lockdown as Delta Spreads

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.

Delta Outbreak Sees Once-Envied Australia Losing Its Luster

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 U.K. and U.S. are preparing to open up their economies after widespread vaccinations, a slow rollout in Australia means the economy, and particularly domestic tourism, remains vulnerable.

Half of Australia’s Population in Lockdown as Delta Spreads

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 6 p.m. 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.

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