Australia’s Perth enters lockdown as Brisbane braces for curbs
Brisbane is set to become the fourth major Australian city in lockdown, as officials told residents to stay at home for three days due to concerns about the rapid spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of COVID-19.
About 10 million Australians will be in lockdown once the latest order comes into force from Tuesday evening.
“These are tough decisions,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. “We are having lockdowns in major cities because the overseas arrivals are bringing the virus here.”
“I know this is going to be tough for a lot of families. I apologise for that but I don’t want to see people end up in our hospital on ventilators. That is the last thing anyone wants to see.”
Brisbane, Queensland’s state capital has recorded at least two new cases prompting the lockdown order.
Earlier on Tuesday, residents of Perth, in Australia’s west, awoke to a four-day snap lockdown starting at midnight, making it the country’s third major city under stay-at-home orders as the more contagious Delta variant spreads.
Just three positive cases have been diagnosed in Perth since the outbreak was detected, but local health officials have long taken a highly cautious approach to any coronavirus clusters.
“We know the risk COVID presents and we know from around the world that the Delta strain is another new beast that we can’t take any chances with,” Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan said in a late-night news conference Monday.
More than two million people living in Perth and its surrounding areas join people in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, and in the northern city of Darwin in lockdown, with the rules applying from midnight Monday into Tuesday and lasting a minimum of four days.
Under the order, public events will not be permitted and residents must stay at home. But schools and childcare centres will remain open with masks required.
The Peel region, which is located south of Perth, is also included in the lockdown order.
In a series of social media posts, McGowan also said that following the detection of new cases, the authorities have identified the areas where the infections originated and told those who had been there to get tested for the virus and self-quarantine for 14 days.
Sluggish vaccine rollout
Australia has been broadly successful in containing virus clusters through effective tracing and quarantine, but is now battling flare-ups in at least four cities across the vast continent nation.
Under pressure for his government’s response, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced vaccines will become mandatory for those working in care homes for the elderly and quarantine hotels, while the AstraZeneca jab will be available to people aged under 60 who sign an indemnity form.
The conservative government has been criticised for a sluggish vaccine rollout and failing to improve the leaky hotel quarantine system, while refusing to release data on how many Australians have been fully vaccinated.
Almost 7.4 million vaccine doses have been administered to date, with less than 5 percent reported to have received both jabs.
Morrison acknowledged growing frustrations.
“We’ve got to hang in there. We don’t have a choice. The pandemic is still upon us,” he said late Monday.
Australia has recorded slightly more than 30,000 cases and 910 deaths in a population of about 25 million since the pandemic began.
The largest current outbreak is in Sydney, where more than 100 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since a driver for an international flight crew was diagnosed in mid-June. The city’s residents are now under stay-at-home orders for two weeks.
During a news conference on Tuesday, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that 19 additional cases have been reported as of Monday evening, bringing the total number of cases since June 16 to 149.
She also thanked the 67,000 people who were tested during the period, adding that while the numbers were stable so far, she expected more cases to be detected and that the numbers would “bounce around”.
A small cluster linked to an outback gold mine also sent Darwin into lockdown after exposure sites were found for the first time in the city, which is home to a large Indigenous population feared to be more vulnerable to COVID-19. – AL JAZEERA