Coronavirus: Half of Australia’s Population Blocked as Delta Variant Spreads

SYDNEY: More than 12 million Australians, roughly half the population, are now incarcerated as the nation struggles to contain the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Brisbane became Australia’s fourth regional capital, restricting movement outside the home for at least three days, less than 24 hours after a similar move in Perth, except for essential reasons such as shopping and exercising. They followed Sydney and Darwin, who announced longer closings of up to two weeks over the weekend.
The outbreaks put Prime Minister Scott Morrison under pressure to increase the pace of delayed vaccine adoption. The Delta variant is oozing from the country’s quarantine hotels, and the current outbreaks have also been linked to miners and flight crews who have traveled across the country.
The groups point to the limits of Australia’s so-called “Covid Zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to prevent the virus from spreading across the community. As countries like the UK and US prepare to open their economies after widespread vaccination, slow adoption in Australia means the economies, and domestic tourism in particular, remain vulnerable.
While international borders are closed to most, the Queensland and Victoria leaders have urged the Morrison government to reduce the number of people entering the country until special quarantine facilities or a large part of the population are built. The country’s current system has proven incapable of containing the Delta variant, Queensland Deputy Prime Minister Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“A lot is happening across the country with this pandemic,” Miles said. All outbreaks could “be traced back to international arrivals. In fact, every day we have new cases of hotel quarantine of people arriving from abroad. Our international borders should be closed.”
The Queensland capital, Brisbane, along with other areas in southeast Queensland including the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, as well as the more remote areas of Townsville City, Palm Island and Magnetic Island, will be closed for three days until 6:00 p.m. Tuesday.
“We have to be tough and quick,” Queensland Prime Minister Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday after two new local cases were reported the previous day. “There will be a three-day lockdown and I don’t want it to last 30 days.”
At a nightly press conference in Perth, Western Australia’s Prime Minister Mark McGowan announced a four-day temporary closure to that city, the country’s unofficial resource capital, after returning to the city as a woman from Sydney while it was infected.
Contact trackers across the country are struggling to keep up with a growing list of expo sites, including some Virgin Australia domestic flights after a cabin crew member tested positive. Meanwhile, an outbreak at a mining site in a remote region of the Central Australian outback has raised fears that the country’s indigenous people have been at increased risk since the pandemic began.
In response to clusters being formed around Australia, states and territories are reintroducing restrictions on national borders, while an unquarantined travel bubble has been suspended between Australia and New Zealand.
The Sydney outbreak now counts around 150 cases, with the state of New South Wales announcing 19 more infections on Tuesday.
“The scariest time”
“This is perhaps the worst time New South Wales has been through since the pandemic began,” Gladys Berejiklian, the prime minister of Australia’s most populous state, told reporters last week.
Prime Minister Morrison, who self-isolated after traveling to Europe this month to meet with leaders attending the G-7 summit, praised the government’s performance in fighting the virus.
“The world is impressed by how Australia has saved lives and livelihoods,” he told viewers of a popular morning show on television Thursday. “We let our economy grow and we protect people.”

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