Australia : New outbreaks emerge across the country
An outbreak in Sydney linked to the highly contagious Delta variant has grown to 128 cases. Cases have also been recorded in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia. Officials say it is a “critical time” for the country, which has kept case numbers low with border closures and lockdowns. This is the first time in months that cases have emerged in multiple parts of the country at the same time.
Around 18 million Australians, or around 70% of the population, are now under some form of lockdown or COVID-related restrictions as officials grapple with COVID-19 flare-ups in almost every state or territory. “I think we are entering a new phase of this pandemic, with the more contagious Delta strain,” federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday, adding Australia was facing a “critical time” in its fight against COVID-19.
Australia’s Queensland state on Monday reintroduced mandatory masks and limited home gatherings in several areas, including state capital Brisbane, following a similar move by Western Australia officials for state capital Perth. Restrictions remain in place in Victoria state capital Melbourne and national capital Canberra.
Residents of Greater Sydney have been ordered to stay home except for exercise, essential shopping and medical treatment until July 9, while Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, on Monday saw its initial 48-hour lockdown extended until Friday. Queensland state on Sunday imposed additional restrictions, while Perth and Canberra have made mask-wearing mandatory in public for the first time since the pandemic began.
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.