MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia recorded a record 1,323 local cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, as debate raged over whether the country should coexist with the virus in the community, after initially successfully suppressing the coronavirus.
New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has reported 1,218 cases as authorities will ease restrictions somewhat after a nine-week lockdown. The closure will continue until the end of September.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has promised to reopen the state once 70% of people over 16 are vaccinated.
“Whatever the case numbers (…) a double dose of 70% in NSW means freedom for those who have been vaccinated,” Berejiklian said.
On Sunday, she said the country was halfway toward the goal.
And in Victoria, the country’s second most populous state which has been on lockdown for the sixth time since the start of the pandemic, 92 new infections were recorded on Sunday, the highest in nearly a year.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said his state’s lockdown, which was due to end on Thursday, would be extended, but did not say for how long.
“We’re seeing too many cases today, so we can seriously consider opening them up later this week,” Andrews said.
The Australian Capital Territory, home to the national capital Canberra, saw 13 new cases.
Australia has far outperformed most developed countries, with just over 50,100 cases linked to COVID-19 and 999 deaths.
After the national government closed international borders early in the outbreak, its six states and territories have used different combinations of government border closures, lockdowns and strict social distancing measures to fight COVID-19.
But the national government is now insisting that the COVID-Zero strategy, which successfully quelled the previous outbreak, is unrealistic after the highly contagious delta variant reaches its shores and hurts the economy.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged states to reopen their borders once the vaccine target for 70% of people over the age of 16 is met, but the virus-free Queensland and Western Australia states have hinted they will not follow suit. Read more
Nationwide, only 33.7% of those eligible have been fully vaccinated, although Australia has scrambled aggressively in recent weeks to vaccinate its population. At current rates, 80% could be vaccinated by mid-November.
“Learning to live with the virus is our only hope,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told The Age on Sunday. “Delaying and denying this fact is not only wrong, it is incredibly unrealistic.”
Victoria supports the federal reopening plan, but state authorities believe the current outbreak, which has now reached 778 active cases, can be quelled with a strict lockdown, including a curfew, in Victoria’s capital Melbourne.
Economic growth figures for the June quarter released on Wednesday may indicate whether Australia will slip into its second recession in several years, as the September quarter, due later in the year, is widely expected to shrink. . .
(Reporting by Lydia Kelly) Editing by Daniel Wallis and Michael Berry
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