Australia’s largest city is struggling to contain an outbreak that began in June as cases in New South Wales hit a record for the second day.
Australian authorities have begun distributing emergency supplies of COVID-19 vaccines in the Sydney suburbs hardest hit by an outbreak of the fast-moving Delta variant, as the state of New South Wales reported another record spike in daily cases. .
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday’s ramp-up of vaccines in Australia’s largest city was providing some hope as the city battles its worst outbreak since the coronavirus pandemic began.
“The next few weeks will be difficult, but there is no doubt that once we get those high vaccination rates, life will feel much better, it will look much more optimistic,” Berejiklian told reporters.
“I know these are difficult times, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Berejiklian said there were 681 new locally acquired cases on Thursday, most of them in Sydney, surpassing the previous daily high of 633 set on Wednesday. Some 119,000 people showed up for the tests.
An additional death was recorded, a man in his 80s, bringing the death toll from the outbreak that was first discovered in mid-June to 61.
Officials are racing to increase vaccination rates in New South Wales to cope with the spread of the virus and as a prerequisite to relax lockdown measures.
Berejiklian has yet to formally extend the shutdown, which currently expires at the end of the month, but has made clear that 70 percent of the state’s population over 16 must be vaccinated, a goal he hopes to reach by the end of October.
About 28.5 percent of people in the state are currently fully vaccinated, slightly more than the national figures, while about 52 percent have received at least one dose.
Officials allocated more than half of an emergency supply of Pfizer vaccines purchased in Poland, equivalent to about 500,000 doses, to the 12 worst-affected suburbs of Sydney, which will be used to vaccinate people under 40 over the next two weeks.
Living with Delta
More than half of Australia’s population of 25 million people lives under lockdown measures, including Sydney, Melbourne and the capital Canberra.
While the country’s overall exposure to the pandemic, with just over 41,400 cases and 971 deaths, is much lower than many other countries, the latest outbreak is proving more difficult to contain.
Cases more than doubled in Melbourne, the country’s second-largest city, on Thursday to 57. Canberra reported 16 new cases.
The outbreak has also spread to New Zealand, where health officials have confirmed a link to Sydney from genome sequencing.
After announcing 11 new cases in the last day, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the analysis revealed that the current positive cases matched someone who flew in from Sydney on August 7.
The person tested positive for COVID-19 on August 9 and was transferred to a quarantine facility. A week later he was transferred to a hospital.
“This is a significant advance. It means that now we can be pretty sure how and when the virus entered the country, ”Ardern told a news conference.
Health officials warned that Australia is vulnerable to more deaths and hospital admissions, given that only 27.5 percent of the national population is fully vaccinated. About half the population has received at least one dose.
State leaders have increasingly diverged in their approach to the pandemic, with some still pushing for its elimination, while others advocate finding an acceptable level of exposure.
“Everyone will have to learn to live with Delta and in New South Wales, we are learning it before others,” said Berejiklian.