Community groups in Australia’s Covid-hit cities are battling misinformation in multiple languages as they race to vaccinate a way out of “traumatic” lockdowns. Beneath the minarets of a mosque in west Sydney, 500 people are booked in for vaccine appointments at a pop-up clinic – part of a burgeoning network of initiatives by minority communities trying to fill a void left by Australia’s mostly Anglo-centric officialdom. For many, it is the longest time they have been out of their homes in weeks. “They just want to go back to work, they want to go back to life,” said Omar Moussawel, one of those getting jabbed to end Sydney’s nearly three month lockdown. When Sydney’s outbreak began in late June, a lack of doses made national vaccination efforts tortuously slow. Myths, fears and outright misinformation – notably about the AstraZeneca vaccine – were allowed to spread largely unchallenged. Khaled Kamalmaz, a health co-ordinator with the Lebanese Muslim Association, remembers such misinformation spreading rapidly across languages. “We’ve had to step in and, you know, try to change the narrative,” Kamalmaz said. The group enlisted sheikhs and religious leaders to get themselves jabbed as an example and to counter damaging misinformation. Communities also partnered with local government authorities increasingly aware of the issue. Quinn On, a pharmacist serving Sydney’s large Chinese and Vietnamese communities, saw a similar problem. “Word of mouth is very powerful in this area,” he told AFP. “There’s a big elderly population in this area that is still very reluctant to have the vaccination, especially with the AstraZeneca.” Andre Renzaho from Western Sydney University’s Translational Health Research Institute believes “the government still hasn’t played enough role to dispel those myths.” “I can guarantee the impact of WhatsApp, Messenger, TikTok within CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse) communities is far greater than government can imagine,” he said. The pandemic continues to impact the rich and poor differently, exposing racial, ethnic and cultural divides that may take a long time to bridge. “It’s much more traumatic than last year,” said Peter Doukas, chair of the Ethnic Communities Council of New South Wales. In Melbourne, 5mn residents are currently in the city’s sixth lockdown since the pandemic began. Many residents in hard-hit areas cannot work from home and have tight-knit family groups that rely on each other for even the most basic of needs. During the city’s worst outbreak in July 2020, Mohamud Omar, 31, was among hundreds of public housing tower residents placed under “hard lockdown”. He spent five days in his apartment with his wife and then one-year-old child, unable to leave his home for any reason. With no way to get access to culturally appropriate food and supplies for his family, he relied on local community organisations. “We were treated differently. The government must take responsibility and apologise,” he said. But even as Sydney’s outbreak has worsened, spiralling into over a thousand cases a day, there are signs community efforts are working. Vaccine hesitancy has slowly given way to demand. New South Wales now leads the country on vaccination rates, and is weeks away from reaching 70% of adults being fully vaccinated, allowing lockdown to end. Areas with large minority populations are among those leading the vaccination charge. On and his team delivered over 3,000 jabs in under a month. Moustafa Fahour, the founder of the Islamic Museum of Australia has been making hundreds of calls daily with a small team of volunteers, helping people access everything from government support to homeschooling tips. “The community is standing up in their own right, and some with the support of government, to really combat and tackle the language gaps.”
Australia’s Covid-19 daily cases topped 1,900 for the first time in the pandemic yesterday as an outbreak fuelled by the highly infectious Delta variant continued to gain ground in locked-down Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities. Australia is in the grip of a third wave of infections with the Delta outbreak forcing officials to ditch their Covid-zero strategy in favour of suppressing the virus. They now aim to begin easing tough restrictions after reaching a higher proportion of the population with double-dose vaccinations. New South Wales (NSW), the epicentre of the country’s worst outbreak, reported 1,542 new daily local cases, topping the previous high of 1,533 hit last week. Nine new deaths were registered. “So far this trajectory is what has been predicted,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital, where cases are expected to hit a peak in the next week. Berejiklian said the daily Covid-19 media briefing would be scrapped from Monday and updates would be detailed in an online video, an approach previously used when case numbers were low. Rising cases in Sydney have increased the load for ambulance staff, with the number of Covid-19 patients transported doubling in the last two weeks to total almost 6,000, officials said. Some 1,156 people are hospitalised in the state, with 207 in intensive care, 89 of whom require ventilation. Despite cases lingering near record levels, NSW authorities on Thursday said Sydney’s businesses could reopen once 70% of the state’s adult population is fully vaccinated, a target due to be reached around the middle of October. So far, 76% of people above 16 in the state have had received at least one dose, while 44% have been fully vaccinated. Victoria state logged 334 new cases, its biggest rise for this year, and one death. Some restrictions in the capital Melbourne will be eased when 70% of the adult population has received at least one vaccine dose, expected around September 23. A four-stage national reopening plan unveiled by the federal government in July aims to relax several tough curbs once the country reaches a 70-80% immunisation target from 40% now. However, some virus-free states have flagged they may delay easing curbs on inter-state travel and other restrictions. Australia’s total infection numbers stand at around 70,000 cases, including 1,076 deaths. Higher vaccinations have kept the death rate at 0.41% in the Delta outbreak, data shows, below previous outbreaks.
Locked-down Sydney residents could enjoy a meal at a restaurant as soon as next month if the double-dose vaccination rate hits 70%, under an official “roadmap to freedom” released yesterday. Officials in the eastern state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, said stay-at-home orders would be lifted for fully vaccinated people once it hits the interim Covid-19 vaccine target for adults. The roadmap gave no date but current vaccination rates indicate the 70% target may be reached in October. “A meal with loved ones or a drink with friends is just around the corner,” deputy premier John Barilaro pledged. After 10 weeks of lockdown, the announcement offers more than 5mn people across Sydney a measure of hope – and an incentive for vaccine laggards to get the jab. Hair salons, gyms, restaurants and cinemas are also set to reopen, and students would return to school from October 25. If the target is reached in October, Sydney residents would have spent up to four months under stay-at-home orders. The planned easing of restrictions comes despite New South Wales recording 1,405 new cases yesterday and warnings from doctors’ groups of growing pressure on hospitals. “When you reopen, you expect an increase in case numbers. But if it’s in the vaccinated population, our health system won’t be troubled by that,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian said. Almost 39,000 cases have been linked to the outbreak that began in Sydney in mid-June. Further freedoms are promised once 80% of people are vaccinated – with Berejiklian suggesting international travel could resume for the first time since Australia closed its borders in March 2020. That came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the “sacrifice” and “heartbreak” endured by tens of thousands of overseas Australians shut out of their home country by tough border rules. Australia’s government has also mooted the creation of a vaccine passport, which is set to be rolled out ahead of cautious plans to restart international travel later this year. But unfettered domestic travel could take longer, with some states still pursuing “Covid zero” policies and reluctant to allow free movement. Morrison praised the New South Wales reopening plan, saying there would not be a national “freedom day” but the country needed to embrace the gradual easing of restrictions despite expected difficulties. “We need to be able to move forward... And so it is important to push through and hold your nerve through that process.”
• New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government’s modelling revealed the state would require its highest number of intensive care beds in early October Sydney, the epicentre of Australia’s biggest coronavirus outbreak, is expected to see daily infections peak next week, authorities said yesterday, as they look to speed up immunisations before easing lockdown rules. Australia is trying to contain a third wave of infections that has hit its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and its capital Canberra, forcing more than half the country’s 25mn people into strict stay-at-home restrictions. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the government’s modelling revealed the state would require its highest number of intensive care beds in early October, with “additional pressure on the system” in the next few weeks. Daily cases in Sydney’s worst-affected suburbs are expected to rise to as high as 2,000 until the middle of this month, the modelling showed. “If too many of us do the wrong thing, (if) there are too many super-spreading events, we could see those numbers higher,” Berejiklian said during a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital. A total of 1,071 coronavirus cases are currently in New South Wales hospitals, with 177 people in intensive care (ICU), 67 of whom require ventilation. Officials have said they had quadrupled ICU beds to about 2,000 in the state early last year to handle the pandemic. The state reported 1,281 new cases yesterday, most of them in Sydney, down from 1,485 a day earlier. Five new deaths were recorded. Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, reported 246 new cases yesterday, its biggest daily rise of the year. Despite the recent outbreaks, Australia’s coronavirus numbers have remained relatively low at around 63,000 cases and 1,044 deaths helped by hard lockdowns and border restrictions. But businesses have had to bear the brunt, with Australia on the brink of a second recession in as many years. Melbourne’s giant observation wheel, part of the city’s skyline for more than 15 years, will close permanently due to Covid-related “travel restrictions and sustained shutdowns”, its operator said yesterday. Australian Industry Group, meanwhile, has warned the country could face power blackouts in summer if quarantine-weary workers refuse to cross state borders for repairs and maintenance. Authorities have pledged more freedom of movement, including opening of state borders, once 70% to 80% of the population aged over 16 is vaccinated, although some virus-free states may delay their reopening plans due to the Delta outbreak in Sydney. Just over 38% of Australia’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, with the country expected to reach 70% by early November based on current rates. The federal government has doubled the available Pfizer doses for September after last week entering into vaccine swap deals with Britain and Singapore for a total of around 4.5mn doses, with nearly half a million arriving overnight. “There will be another set of flights in a couple of days, but we’ll pretty much be getting a million of the 4mn every week over the next four weeks,” lieutenant general John Frewen, head of the vaccination taskforce, told broadcaster ABC. Frewen said 1mn doses of Moderna will also reach Australia in “a week or so”, becoming the third vaccine to join the rollout along with Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots.
Australia reported 1,684 new cases of the coronavirus yesterday as authorities race ahead with vaccinations in a bid to end lockdowns on the populous southeast coast in the hope of making Christmas as close to normal as possible. More than 15mn people in Victoria state, neighbouring New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have been under stay-at-home orders as officials struggle to quell Australia’s worst wave of the coronavirus infections, driven by the Delta variant. New South Wales reported 1,485 cases of Delta and three further deaths yesterday. Victoria had 183 new cases, while the Australian Capital Territory had 15. There was also one new infection reported in Queensland, which is not under a lockdown. The lockdowns, which keep borders between states and territories closed, are part of a federally advised strategy to manage the outbreaks until at least 70% of those aged 16 and older get fully vaccinated. The plan envisages that Australia might start reopening its international border, closed since March 2020, when 80% of people get their shots. “When we get those vaccination rates, life will look better and feel better and we certainly will not have to have a state-wide lockdown ever again when we hit the 80% double dose vaccination rates,” said Gladys Berejiklian, premier of New South Wales. Only about 37% of eligible people have been vaccinated nationwide, due to the scarce supply of the Pfizer vaccine and public unease about the AstraZeneca shot. The pace has picked up considerably with the federal government racing to secure more Pfizer shots. Based on current rates, the 70% target may be achieved in late October of early November. Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated that the Delta outbreak could not be fully eliminated — a successful strategy used by states and territories in earlier waves — but that achieving the vaccination targets could open up interstate travel. “And everyone can make plans for a family Christmas, with all our loved ones at the dinner table, cracking bon-bons and bad jokes together,” Morrison told the Sunday Herald Sun. “Nobody wants Covid to be the virus that stole Christmas, and we have a plan and the vaccinations available to ensure that’s not the case.” Australia has recorded just under 62,000 Covid-19 cases and 1,040 deaths, far fewer than many other countries.
Intensive care cases in Australia’s New South Wales will hit a peak in October as Covid-19 infections accumulate, said the premier of the country’s most populous state, which reported record daily new infections yesterday. New South Wales, the epicentre of Australia’s current outbreak, declared a record 1,290 new cases as the nation struggles to contain the highly contagious Delta variant. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state was preparing for additional hospitalisations as infections pile up, before increased vaccination coverage starts to ease the pressure. “We anticipate that the worst month, the worst time for our intensive care unit will be in October,” Berejiklian said in the state capital Sydney. “We will need to manage things differently because we are in the middle of a pandemic, but we will cope.” There are 840 people in hospital for Covid-19 in New South Wales, with 137 in intensive care and 48 requiring ventilation. The state reported four additional fatalities yesterday, taking the Covid-19 death toll to 1,003 in Australia, the last of the Group of 20 big economies to exceed that milestone. One of the four was the first known death of an Aboriginal person. The 50-year-old man, who was not vaccinated, lived in western NSW where vaccination rates are particularly low, raising fears there will be many more deaths there. “Aboriginal people were deemed to be vulnerable communities, vulnerable groups in the vaccine rollout. And clearly that has failed,” Linda Burney, Labour’s shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, told reporters. Nationwide, a record 1,375 new Covid-19 cases were reported. Australia has used a system of strict lockdowns and quarantine to keep coronavirus infection and death rates lower than in most comparable nations, however the Delta variant is now pressuring health services. Just over 33% of those aged 16 and older have received two vaccine doses, well below most comparable nations, according to government data. The delays were partly because of changed health advice over the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was to be the backbone of the country’s immunisation programme, after rare cases of blood clots among some recipients. The pace of vaccination in Australia has since risen to a seven-day average of more than 250,000 doses a day, the fastest rate ever, according to a Reuters analysis.
Australia reported a record 1,126 coronavirus infectious yesterday, the vast majority in New South Wales, the epicentre of the Delta-fuelled outbreak. More than half of Australians have been in weeks-long lockdowns as officials in Sydney and Melbourne, the country’s largest cities, and the capital Canberra struggle to quell the outbreak. New South Wales, the most populous state and home to Sydney, reported 1,035 locally acquired Covid-19 infections, breaking Thursday’s record of 1,029 as the outbreak that started in mid-June continues to grow. Victoria reported 64 cases, mostly in its capital Melbourne, and Australian Capital Territory that includes Canberra had 26 infections. Queensland had one, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told a briefing. Despite the record in New South Wales, the state’s conservative Liberal Party government said it would ease some restrictions next week, allowing for five-guest weddings. The state’s management of the outbreak – which has nearly 14,700 active cases – has been criticised by officials in neighbouring Victoria, who have imposed stricter restrictions, believing the outbreak there can be suppressed. “I’m not sure 1,000 cases a day is a sign of hope,” Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said of the New South Wales infections. “I’m pretty sure that if you ask those intensive care nurses in Sydney hospitals at the moment how they saw the situation, it wouldn’t be a hugely rosy picture.” After months of supply delays with the Pfizer shots and public unease about the AstraZeneca vaccine, Australia has been racing in recent weeks to inoculate its population. At current rates, 80% could be vaccinated by mid-November. The federal government announced a plan last month that envisaged lockdowns as a key to quelling outbreaks until 70% percent of the population gets vaccinated and a gradual re-opening of Australia’s borders when the number reaches 80%. Just 33.7% of people above age 16 have been fully vaccinated, but with some 49,800 cases and 993 deaths, Australia has kept its Covid-19 numbers relatively low. Neighbouring New Zealand, which had been largely virus-free this year, is also fighting a Delta outbreak, reporting 82 new locally acquired cases yesterday, all in the epicentre Auckland, as the nation remains under a strict lockdown.
• NSW cases fall to 882 vs record 1,029 previous day • Vaccine panel okays inoculations for children aged 12-15 Sydney’s Covid-19 cases slightly eased yesterday but still hovered near record levels as the Australian federal government looks to press states to stick to a national reopening plan once the country reaches a 70-80% vaccination rate. The national cabinet, a group of federal and state leaders, will meet later in the day against a backdrop of concerns by some states given the persistently high daily infections in Sydney even after two months under lockdown. New South Wales recorded 882 new cases, most of them in state capital Sydney, down from the record 1,029 on Thursday as officials struggle to quell the Delta outbreak. Two new deaths were reported, while 117 people are in intensive care, 103 of them unvaccinated. Even as infections surge, state authorities revealed a staggered back-to-school plan from late October, when they expect its vaccination rate to hit 70% from 32% now. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would be focussing more on vaccination rates and the number of hospitalisations rather than daily case numbers as the rollout picks up speed. “They are the two things that will matter even when we start to live life more freely at 70% and then obviously at 80% ... we are starting to make that mind change in New South Wales,” Berejiklian said during a televised media conference. A national reopening plan was agreed between leaders of Australia’s eight states and territories and the federal government last month, when Sydney cases were much lower, but virus-free Queensland and Western Australia have hinted they may not follow it. More than half of all Australians are under strict stay-at-home orders as Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and capital Canberra, battle outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant. The lockdowns are hitting economic activity with some economists predicting Australia’s A$2tn ($1.45tn) economy on the brink of a second recession in as many years as data on Friday showed a plunge in July retail sales. In Victoria state, officials detected 79 new local cases, down from 80 cases on Thursday. Of the new cases, 26 are mystery cases - those whose source is unknown - raising prospects of an extension to the lockdown beyond Sept. 2. With some 48,600 cases and 991 deaths, Australia has kept its coronavirus numbers relatively low. Officials expect fewer deaths from the latest flare-up versus last year as vaccination rates rise. So far, 32% of people above 16 has been fully vaccinated and based on current rates, Australia should hit 80% by mid-November. Australia’s expert vaccination panel yesterday approved the use of vaccines for children aged 12-15.
Australia can proceed with its reopening plans when the country reaches 70%-80% vaccination levels, the government’s pandemic modelling adviser said, even as some states hinted they may not ease border curbs if Sydney fails to control its Delta outbreak. The Melbourne-based Doherty Institute said the country’s focus must shift to limiting the number of Covid-19 deaths and hospitalisations, from its current zero-cases strategy, when at least 70% of the country’s population above age 16 is fully vaccinated. “This level of vaccination will make it easier to live with the virus, as we do with other viruses such as the flu,” it said in a statement. “Once we reach 70% vaccine coverage, opening up at tens or hundreds of cases nationally per day is possible.” Currently, 30% of Australia’s adult population has been fully vaccinated while 53% have had at least one dose. Australia in July unveiled a four-stage plan back to greater freedoms with higher vaccination rates. But Queensland and Western Australia states flagged they may not stick with the agreement as it was framed when case numbers in Sydney were much lower. Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the concerns of some states from the Sydney outbreak but said “forever lockdowns” will do more harm than good to the country. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s 30 cases or 800 cases, the conclusions are the same, and that’s what the Doherty Institute said...we can do this safely and we do need to do it,” Morrison told Nine News yesterday. Australia has suffered less from the coronavirus pandemic than many other developed countries with about 44,600 cases and 984 deaths. But a third wave of infections from the Delta variant has plunged Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and capital Canberra into a weeks-long lockdown. Sydney, the worst-affected, has reported rapid growth in new case numbers as state officials pivot to a faster vaccine rollout strategy as more than two months of stay-at-home orders have failed to stop the spread of Delta. “Let us focus on the vaccine rates because that is what will determine how we can live moving forward,” New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. Berejiklian, who had promised more freedoms for the fully-vaccinated once total doses topped 6mn, said the state has crossed that milestone and changes will be announced later this week.
Hundreds of active Covid cases in the community should not delay Australia’s plan to reopen and end widespread lockdowns, Scott Morrison said, urging people to look beyond a “one-eyed focus” on daily case numbers. As NSW recorded 830 new cases and three deaths yesterday, the prime minister also pushed back against suggestions that case numbers were too high for Australia to move to the next phase of the plan agreed to by state leaders, saying the conclusions of the Doherty Institute modelling remained the same. This is despite one of the architects of the Doherty modelling, Prof James McCaw, telling Guardian Australia that case numbers were too high to abandon lockdowns even if the vaccination rate reached 70%. Morrison said this was not supported by the advice given to national cabinet by the Doherty Institute’s professor Jodie McVernon, and that once 70% of the country was vaccinated, lockdowns would be “unlikely and targeted”, regardless of how many active cases there were in the community. “The advice we have from the Doherty Institute is the starting point does not ultimately alter the conclusions of the modelling,” Morrison told the ABC’s Insiders programme. “As we go forward, once you get over 70% and particularly over 80%, lockdowns do more harm than good. “Lockdowns are not a sustainable way to deal with the virus and that’s why we have to get to the 70% and 80% marks so we can start living with the virus.” When asked if that would see the end of lockdowns, Morrison said they would be “highly unlikely and targeted” giving the example of western NSW where “strong precautions” would still be needed because of the low vaccination rate among indigenous people. The country’s chief medical officer, professor Paul Kelly, yesterday said the Doherty Institute would present updated advice to national cabinet this week, but insisted there was no need for major changes. “Does this need to go back to the drawing board? Absolutely not,” Kelly said. He said the modelling always factored in the exponential growth of the virus, but the research was being updated to reflect a starting point with high rates of transmission. “They are doing that modelling again now, but on first principles, that same effect you have at 70% and 80% would be the same effect, it would minimise the number of people in ICU particularly and in hospitalisation.” Amid growing case numbers in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, Morrison said he thought it was “highly unlikely” that achieving zero Covid cases in the community was plausible, but insisted suppression was still needed until at least 70% of Australians were vaccinated. “Once you do that, then you can move into focusing on the public health issues of hospitalisation and serious illness,” he said. “Case numbers are not the whole story...but right now, of course, we need to make the lockdowns effective. We need to suppress the virus as best we can, and we need for people to isolate, stay at home, get tested and of course, go and get vaccinated.” In an opinion piece published yesterday, Morrison said “a one-eyed focus” on case numbers “overlooks the fact that less people are getting seriously ill, let alone dying”. The initial modelling, which underpinned the national cabinet’s plan for Australia to live with the virus, looked at what would happen with an outbreak of Covid-19 if there were 30 cases in the community, the vaccination rate was 70% and restrictions were eased. It found that with a vaccination rate of 70%, there would be almost 400,000 cases in the community within 180 days, reducing to 230,000 cases if the vaccination rate was 80%. It also showed that until vaccination rates reach 70% any outbreaks would likely see “rapid and uncontrolled” growth, leading to a significant number of deaths and severe cases. Once the vaccination coverage reaches 70% and 80%, the rate of severe infections is reduced, but under an “uncontrolled outbreak” scenario, between 1,300 and 2,000 people would still die from 10,000 to 20,000 severe infections within six months. If low-level restrictions were ongoing – such as capacity limits and social distancing – then a 70% vaccination rate would reduce deaths to as few as 16 within six months, as long as the testing, tracing, isolating and quarantine (TTIQ) regime was “optimal”. Morrison rejected suggestions that if Australia had secured more Pfizer vaccines earlier, the country would not still be in lockdown, saying “there are many wise in hindsight”.
Australian police arrested hundreds of anti-lockdown protesters in Melbourne and Sydney yesterday and seven officers were hospitalised as a result of clashes, as the country saw its highest ever single-day rise in Covid-19 cases. Mounted police used pepper spray in Melbourne to break up crowds of more than 4,000 surging toward police lines, while smaller groups of protesters were prevented from congregating in Sydney by a large contingent of riot police. Victoria state police said that they arrested 218 people in the state capital Melbourne. They issued 236 fines and kept three people in custody for assaulting police. The arrested people face fines of A$5,452 (US $3,900) each for breaching public health orders. Police in New South Wales, where Sydney is the capital, said they charged 47 people with breaching public health orders or resisting arrest, among other offences, and issued more than 260 fines ranging from A$50 ($35) to $3,000. The police said about 250 people made it to the city for the protest. Sydney, Australia’s biggest city with more than 5mn people, has been in a strict lockdown for more than two months, failing to contain an outbreak that has spread across internal borders and as far as neighbouring New Zealand. The vast majority of the 894 cases reported across Australia on Saturday were found in Sydney, the epicentre of the Delta variant-fuelled outbreak. “We are in a very serious situation here in New South Wales,” said state Health Minister Brad Hazzard. “There is no time now to be selfish, it’s time to think of the broader community and your families.” Police patrolled Sydney’s streets and blocked private and public transport into the city centre to reduce the number of people gathering at an unauthorised protest. In Melbourne, the country’s second-most populous city, a large crowd managed to march and some clashed with police, after state Premier Daniel Andrews expanded a city lockdown to the entire state. Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Shane Patton had earlier warned people to stay away from the protest, adding it was “just ridiculous to think that people would be so selfish and come and do this.” Several hundred people also protested peacefully in Brisbane, which is not in lockdown. Just 7% of Australians support the often-violent protests, according to a late-July poll by market research firm Utting Research. Compliance with public health rules has been one of the key cited reasons behind Australia’s success, relative to other rich countries, in managing the pandemic. But the country has been struggling to rein in the third wave of infections that began in Sydney in mid-June. Australia has had about 43,000 Covid-19 cases and 978 deaths. But while those numbers are low, only about a third of Australians aged 16 and above have been fully vaccinated, according to federal health ministry data released on Saturday. New South Wales officials reported three deaths and 516 people in hospital on Saturday. Of the 85 people in intensive care, 76 were unvaccinated, officials said. At least 96 people were active in the community during their infectious period, and there were a number of breaches of public health orders, all slowing the efforts to curtail the outbreak. In Victoria, at least 39 people were active in the community while infectious. Eighteen people were in hospital, eight in intensive care and six on ventilators.
Two million residents of Sydney will be under nightly curfew from next week to slow the highly infectious Delta variant of coronavirus that is spreading across New South Wales state, authorities said yesterday as they extended lockdown orders. Australia’s third wave of Covid-19 infections, centred on Sydney, has forced more than half the population of nearly 26mn into lockdown and pushed the world’s 13th-largest economy to the brink of its second recession in as many years. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian extended Sydney’s lockdown until the end of September and imposed new restrictions including the curfew, a requirement to wear a mask when outside and limits on exercise. “I asked health and police to work together, to give me a final list of what we can throw at this, to leave no shadow of a doubt as to how serious we are about getting the rate of growth down, the case numbers down,” Berejiklian told a media conference. A curfew from 9pm to 5am would take effect from Monday in the 12 worst-affected council areas, covering about 40% of Sydney’s population of 5mn. Anyone caught entering those areas would be fined and required to self-isolate for 14 days. With a similar curfew already in place in Melbourne, more than a quarter of Australia’s population will be confined to their homes at night from Monday, with the exception of essential workers. NSW state reported 644 new infections yesterday, most of them in Sydney. Daily cases across NSW have topped 400 for the past seven days despite eight weeks of lockdown in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city. With only about 28% of people above 16 years of age fully vaccinated, Australia has failed to contain the Sydney outbreak which has now seeded cases in other towns and cities across Australia as well as New Zealand. Australia’s Victoria state recorded 55 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases and warned it was at risk of being swamped by infections. “We are right on the edge of this getting away from us and it’s not because contact tracing aren’t doing everything they can. They are. It’s not because we didn’t lock down fast enough. We did,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne. Australia’s capital Canberra is also in lockdown, with 16 cases recorded in the past 24 hours out of a population of around 430,000, authorities said. Suicide prevention helpline Lifeline Australia said there had been a 40% rise in calls in recent days compared with pre-pandemic times. “What that demonstrates is the level of anxiety, increasing levels of anger in the community, and of course stress and pressure,” Lifeline Australia Chair John Brogden told broadcaster ABC on Friday. Australia has recorded just shy of 12,000 infections since the first Delta case was reported in Sydney on June 16. Four new deaths were confirmed in NSW yesterday, taking the total to 65 in the latest outbreak. Even so, high vaccination levels among Australia’s most vulnerable mean the mortality rate is 0.54%, official data shows, below previous outbreaks. Despite a third wave of infections from the Delta variant, Australia’s Covid-19 numbers are relatively low, with some 42,100 cases and 975 deaths.
Australia reported its biggest one-day rise in coronavirus infections yesterday, as authorities began doling out emergency supplies of vaccine in the Sydney suburbs worst hit by an outbreak of the fast-moving Delta strain. Officials allocated more than half an emergency supply of Pfizer vaccines bought from Poland, or about 500,000 doses, to the city’s dozen worst-affected suburbs where they will be given to those younger than 40 over the next two weeks. The ramp-up in inoculations provides hope to Australia’s biggest city amid its worst outbreak since the pandemic began, said Gladys Berejiklian, premier of its home state of New South Wales. “The next few weeks will be hard, but no doubt once we get those high vaccination rates life will feel much better, it will look much rosier,” she told reporters in Sydney, the state capital. “I know these are challenging times, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Yesterday’s daily nationwide figure of 754 cases surpassed the previous single-day high of 738 on August 5 last year. New South Wales, which is Australia’s most populous state, accounted for the bulk of infections, or 681, and it recorded a new death. Officials are scrambling to hasten vaccinations in the state before they can lift its lockdown measures. Although Berejiklian has yet to formally extend the shutdown set to expire at month-end, she has made clear that 70% of the state’s population that is older than 16 must be vaccinated, a target she expects to reach by the end of October. The state has completed vaccination of 28.5% of its population, slightly higher than national numbers, with about 52% having received one dose. Lockdown measures are cramping the lifestyles of more than half of Australia’s population of 25mn in the cities of Melbourne and Canberra, the capital, besides Sydney. Although Australia’s pandemic tally of just over 41,400 cases and the death toll of 971 is far lower than many nations, the latest outbreaks threaten to push the A$2tn ($1.5tn) economy into its second recession in as many years. Prime Minister Scott Morrison set August 30 for opening the vaccination programme to younger healthy Australians aged between 16 and 39. Those aged 18 or above can now receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, but will also be able to get the Pfizer vaccine from the end of the month. Pressure had been mounting on Morrison as the low vaccination rates had missed his initial targets. Health officials have warned of the risk of death and hospital stays, as just 27.5% of the population has completed vaccinations, with about half getting at least one dose. Cases more than doubled to 57 in the second largest city of Melbourne yesterday, while the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), home to Canberra, reported 16 new local infections. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr warned the capital was in a crucial stage of its virus fight and implored residents to stay home, adding, “We either stop this virus now or we live like Sydney for the rest of this year.” States’ approaches to tackling the pandemic have varied from stamping it out to targeting acceptable levels of exposure. “Everyone will have to learn to live with Delta and in New South Wales, we are learning that earlier than others,” Berejiklian said.
Australia’s biggest city of Sydney recorded its deadliest day of the Covid-19 pandemic yesterday as troops and police set up roadblocks to limit the movement of people, while Melbourne faced a nightly curfew and a further two weeks of lockdown. Sydney, which is in its eighth week of lockdown, is the epicentre of Australia’s third Covid-19 wave that threatens to push the country’s A$2tn ($1.5tn) economy into its second recession in as many years. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said seven people in Sydney had died from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, surpassing the state’s previous record daily toll from earlier this month. Berejiklian said New South Wales had detected 478 infections, the highest one-day rise since the pandemic began. “Our community transmission numbers are disturbingly high,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. “Every death is a person who has loved ones, who has died in tragic circumstances,” she added. Authorities also confirmed the death of a 15-year-old boy from Sydney, who had pneumococcal meningitis and Covid-19. Australia has confirmed 55 deaths since July 11, breaking a run of more than three months without any fatalities. In total, Australia has recorded 966 Covid-19 deaths. The toll rose as 200 military personnel were deployed across Sydney to set up roadblocks in the hardest-hit areas, amid persistent reports of people flouting lockdown rules. The latest deployment comes on top of 500 troops deployed last month. With only 26% of people above 16 years of age fully vaccinated, Australia is vulnerable to the highly infectious Delta variant that has steadily spread across the country. While Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Darwin — which entered into lockdown yesterday — are all under tight restrictions, cases have steadily risen. Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said Melbourne’s 5mn residents would be subjected to a nightly curfew and the city would remain in a lockdown until September 2 after recording 22 new Covid-19 cases. “We are at a tipping point. There is simply no option today but to further strengthen this lockdown,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne. A spike in cases had been driven by people breaking lockdown rules, he said. In one instance, police fined 69 people A$5,500 ($4,034) each for attending an engagement party in breach of the lockdown. National capital Canberra recorded 19 new cases as it extended its lockdown for a further two weeks. Australia’s economy rebounded strongly from the initial wave of the pandemic, with unemployment hitting its lowest levels in more than a decade at 4.9% in June. But with its two most populated cities Sydney and Melbourne in lockdown, economists expect a heavy toll. “Unemployment may spike back up to 5.5% in the months ahead, mainly driven by (New South Wales),” said Shane Oliver, Chief Economist at AMP. The outbreak and sluggish vaccine rollout has fuelled pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who must call an election before May next year. A poll last week showed his approval rating at its lowest level since the pandemic began. Morrison said on Sunday that Australia had bought about 1mn doses Covid-19 vaccine from Poland, but declined to specify how much had been paid. The government has already ordered 40mn doses from Pfizer. He said more than half of the doses from Poland would be rushed to inoculate 20- to 39-year-olds in the worst-affected suburbs of Sydney.
Australian police hiked fines for people breaking lockdown rules in Sydney and the rest of its home state yesterday and strict stay-at-home orders were extended statewide amid a record jump in daily new Covid-19 infections. State police will fine up to A$5,000 (US $3,700) anyone breaching stay-at-home orders or for lying to contract-tracing officials, said state Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Previously breaching quarantine orders had carried a A$1,000 fine. “We have to accept that this is the worst situation New South Wales has been in since day one. And it’s also regrettably, because of that, the worst situation Australia’s been in,” she told a news conference. Locally transmitted infections surged by a record 466 over the previous 24 hours, eclipsing the previous daily high of 390 set yesterday. Four deaths were recorded on Saturday, taking the state’s total in the latest outbreak to 42. It is becoming increasingly unlikely Sydney will end its nine-week lockdown on Aug. 28 as planned. Authorities had been talking about easing some restrictions if enough people are vaccinated and case numbers fall. “We will get through this, but September and October are going to be very difficult,” Berejiklian said. “This is literally a war, and we’ve known we’ve been in a war for some time, but never to this extent.” Hundreds more defence personnel will be deployed next week to Sydney to help enforce the lockdown, with authorities particularly concerned about the spread of the virus to several regional towns. A new A$3,000 fine will apply to people entering rural areas without an official permit, while stay-at-home orders were introduced for seven days in regional areas not currently in lockdown. Weddings and funerals will get a day “grace period” and will be allowed on Sunday, but schools across the state will close, officials said. The head of the Australian Retailers Association, Paul Zahra, said the state-wide lockdown would come as a shock to many regional towns and could cost the economy A$1.5 billion (US$1.11bn) per week. The permit to enter rural areas will only be granted for certain reasons including authorised work, property inspections or urgent work repairs on a second home. “The fines are some of the biggest fines that I’ve ever seen and we will be issuing them as of today,” said New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller. “Those people that have been getting around the orders, taking family vacations to other premises – that is over.” In neighbouring Victoria, where state capital Melbourne is in its second week of an extended lockdown, authorities reported 21 locally acquired cases, up from 15 a day earlier. Despite the recent outbreaks, Australia still has far lower Covid-19 numbers than many other countries in the developed world, with just over 38,600 cases and 952 deaths.
Hundreds more defence personnel will deploy next week to Sydney to help enforce the city’s lockdown after authorities yesterday reported the biggest daily rise in Covid-19 cases from the outbreak which is spreading beyond Australia’s largest city. “Unfortunately, this trend (in cases) will continue for at least the next few days,” New South Wales (NSW) state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital. As daily Covid-19 cases hit a record high in Sydney it is becoming increasingly unlikely the city will end its nine-week lockdown on August 28 as originally planned. Authorities are talking about easing some restrictions if enough people are vaccinated and case numbers fall. The defence department said it had received a request for extra personnel to help support police to enforce home-quarantine orders in the worst-affected suburbs in Sydney. “Defence is preparing to deploy an additional 200 personnel commencing Monday ... to assist NSW police force,” a defence department spokesperson told Reuters. More than 500 unarmed army personnel are already helping police in Sydney, including monitoring compliance activities at hotels and airports. Despite a nearly seven-week lockdown in Sydney, NSW state reported 390 new locally acquired cases, most of the cases in the city, eclipsing the previous daily high of 356 set on Tuesday. Daily cases have topped 300 for the past four days. Two new deaths have been recorded, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak in the state to 38. Several regional towns in NSW are also in lockdown due to people breaching the Sydney lockdown and spreading the virus. One of the most concerning is in the town of Walgett in far northwest NSW where 80% of the population is indigenous. Australia has moved to prioritise the vaccinations of its indigenous population amid concerns of higher death rates in the often disadvantaged communities. Still, fewer than 15% of Australia’s indigenous population is fully vaccinated. Berejiklian said the surge in the highly infectious Delta variant has never been “tested in this magnitude in Australia”. Some states have closed their borders with NSW or restricted entry to stop the spread of COVID-19. Australia’s national cabinet met yesterday amid worries the NSW outbreaks could spread across the country, where only 25% of people above 16 are fully vaccinated. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia is rapidly accelerating vaccinations with 1mn doses administered in four days, however he remains under fire for a sluggish vaccination rollout as Australia still awaits the bulk of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Authorities have said lockdowns — in force now in Australia’s two largest cities — Sydney and Melbourne — and the nation’s capital will be needed in the event of Covid-19 clusters until at least 70% of adults are vaccinated. Health authorities in NSW project a 70% vaccination target in the state will not be reached until mid October and 80% vaccination in November. It may take until early 2022 for an 80% national target to be reached.
Extra Australian military personnel may be called in to ensure compliance with lockdown rules in Sydney, the New South Wales state government said yesterday, as the highly infectious Delta coronavirus variant spreads into regional areas. The move comes as Australia’s capital city, Canberra, 260km southwest of Sydney, announced a snap one-week lockdown from yesterday evening after reporting its first locally acquired case of Covid-19 in more than a year. Authorities later confirmed an additional three cases, all close contacts of the first case, an unnamed man. Australia is battling to get on top of the fast-moving Delta strain that has plunged its two largest cities — Sydney and Melbourne — into hard lockdowns. “We are making sure that we do not leave any stone unturned in relation to extra (military) resources,” New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a media conference in Sydney, the state capital. Some 580 unarmed army personnel are already helping police enforce home-quarantine orders on affected households in the worst-affected suburbs of Sydney, Australia’s most populous city. Several regional towns scattered across NSW have also been forced into snap lockdowns after fresh cases, raising fears the virus is spreading out of control. Despite seven weeks of lockdown in Sydney, daily infections continue to hover near record highs. NSW yesterday reported 345 new locally acquired cases, most of them in Sydney, up from 344 a day earlier. Lockdown rules were tightened in three more local council areas in Sydney, limiting the movement of people to within 5km of their homes. Joe Awada, the mayor of Bayside Council, one of the areas placed under additional restrictions, questioned why more targeted curbs were not introduced. “I mean to lock down 200,000 residents because of three suburbs is not acceptable to me,” Awada told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Officials also reported the deaths of two men in their 90s, taking the total deaths in the latest outbreak to 36. A total of 374 cases are in hospitals, with 62 in intensive care, 29 of whom require ventilation. In Canberra, authorities said the one-week lockdown was needed as they were unsure how the man is his 20s acquired Covid-19. Canberra has largely escaped any Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and confirmation of a Delta variant saw panic buying at the supermarkets and long lines at testing sites. Neighbouring Victoria state yesterday reported 21 new locally acquired cases, up from 20 a day earlier, as 5mn residents of Melbourne, the state capital, prepare to enter a second week of lockdown. Of the new cases, six spent time outdoors while infectious, a number which authorities have said must return to near zero before restrictions can be eased. Australia has largely avoided the high coronavirus numbers seen in many other countries, with just over 37,700 cases and 946 deaths, and several states remain almost Covid-free despite the outbreaks in Sydney and Melbourne.
Three Australian publishers of lifestyle content say Facebook used their articles on its just-launched news service after refusing to negotiate licensing deals, and that the country’s tough new Internet law has failed to protect them. Australia this year passed a law that pressured Facebook and Alphabet’s Google to sign deals with some of the country’s biggest news companies by threatening government intervention. The dispute highlights possible shortcomings in the controversial law. While most of Australia’s main media firms have signed deals, some smaller outlets say the law has not stopped their content generating clicks and advertising revenue for Facebook without compensation. Broadsheet Media, Urban List and Concrete Playground, websites which publish entertainment news, reviews and listings, say that after the law was passed in February they approached the social media giant about payment for their content. Facebook knocked them back, calling their content unsuitable for its Facebook News platform and recommending they apply for grants it was offering from a A$15mn ($11mn) fund for Australian regional and digital newsrooms, the three companies told Reuters in a joint call. “They told me that, ‘oh well, you’re not going to be included in News tab and that’s what we’re paying for’,” said Nick Shelton, founder of Broadsheet Media. “To our surprise, we woke one morning last week and all of our content was there.” Facebook News went live in Australia on August 4. Facebook declined to comment directly on the three companies but said it created value for publishers by sending viewers to their sites. Under the law, Facebook and Google must negotiate payment deals with outlets or a government-appointed arbitrator will do it for them, but a publisher must first prove its primary purpose is producing news and that it has been unfairly disqualified. The three publishers said they want Facebook to come to the table to talk but if it declined they may seek government intervention. “If at the end of the day we don’t get included in a commercial agreement, then absolutely they need a stick,” said Shelton. “We are three prime examples of publishers and media businesses which should be included as part of this framework.” To be covered by the law, publishers must register as a news provider with the Australian Communications and Media Authority “based on criteria including the levels of ‘core news’ (essentially public interest journalism) that they produce”, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which drafted the law, said in an e-mail. Urban List has registered on the list. Broadsheet and Concrete Playground have yet to register, saying they want to hold out for a private deal. Tama Leaver, a professor of Internet studies at Australia’s Curtin University, said that while Facebook had not broken the law as the matter was not yet before arbitration, its apparent treatment of the three publishers was “extremely poor practice, disingenuous and further disadvantages the smaller players in the news business arena”. In a separate dispute, the ACCC has said it would look into a claim by The Conversation, which publishes current affairs commentary by academics, that Facebook has refused to negotiate a licensing deal. The Conversation has secured a deal with Google.
Australia's second-biggest city Melbourne will stay locked down for a second week after reporting 20 new COVID-19 cases as it struggles to stamp out infections caused by the highly infectious Delta variant of the pandemic. Melbourne had been due to exit the lockdown on Thursday, the sixth for its five million people in stop-start battles against the coronavirus also seen elsewhere across the country have triggered frustration and discard. In Sydney police are stepping up lockdown enforcement, while some labourers are being allowed to return to construction sites - if vaccinated. Victoria state Premier Dan Andrews confirmed strict stay-at-home orders for Melbourne will remain in place until at least Aug. 19 after authorities were unable to trace how several of the 20 people confirmed as new cases on Wednesday contracted COVID-19. "If we were to open, then we would see cases akin to what is happening, tragically, in Sydney right now," Andrews told reporters in Melbourne, referring to an outbreak in Australia's most populous city that has spread to thousands despite Sydney being in week seven of its own lockdown. "We have seen a surge in the number of cases and (that is) expected to continue," New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, reporting another 344 new infections in the past 24 hours, close to the city's single-day record. Berejiklian said the Sydney lockdown, which has grown to include several areas north of the city, will also be expanded to include Dubbo, a small city about 400 kilometres (248 miles) northwest of Sydney. The latter is scheduled to remain in lockdown until the end of August. Most expect the restrictions to be extended, despite a recent surge in people seeking vaccinations. Byron Bay, a popular tourist spot near the New South Wales border with Queensland and nearly 500 miles north of Sydney, was this week plunged into lockdown when a man allegedly drove there with his two teenage children. Authorities said the man, now hospitalised with the virus, has not cooperated with officials when asked about his movements, and on Wednesday police said they have charged the unidentified man with contravening lockdown orders to stay at home. 'NO JAB, NO JOB' Desperate to restart some major employment industries, New South Wales has allowed some in the most-affected Sydney suburbs to return to construction jobs around the city, but they must first be vaccinated. "I didn't want to get the vaccine ... but I needed to get the jab or I don't have a job," said Nick, a 31-year-old man who drives for an engineering company. He declined to give his surname. Australia has so far fared much better than many other countries in the developed world during the pandemic, with just under 37,000 COVID-19 cases. The death toll rose to 944 on Wednesday after two people, including a man in his 30s, died in Sydney. But with fewer than 25% of the country fully vaccinated, Australia is struggling to avoid stop-start lockdowns that some warn could tip Australia's economy, the world's 13th biggest according to the International Monetary Fund, into a second recession in as many years. Federal and state governments have committed to ending lockdowns when 70% of the country's near 26 million population is vaccinated. Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last month said the country's economy would contract in the current quarter as a result, and a recession would depend on how long the lockdowns last. On Wednesday Matt Comyn, the Chief Executive of Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA.AX) - the country's largest lender - said he expects Australia would avoid a recession "While Australia faces near-term challenges due to the lockdowns we expect growth will simply be pushed back by six months, with the economy rebounding in late 2021 and growing strongly in 2022," Comyn told analysts. The curbs have already dented consumer sentiment, which slid to a one-year trough in August, data published on Wednesday showed.
Australia expanded a Covid-19 lockdown to a rural town and the coastal region of Byron Bay yesterday, as fears grew that the virus has spread from Sydney to the northern tip of the country’s most populous state. Tamworth, a farming town 414km northwest of Sydney, and Byron Bay, a tourist spot about 770km north of Sydney, will both enter a seven-day lockdown, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. Neither Tamworth nor Byron Bay has yet recorded a Covid-19 case, but Berejiklian said two infected people had contravened travel bans and travelled there. “As a precaution, the health experts have recommended we lock down Tamworth for one week,” Berejiklian told reporters. New South Wales reported 283 locally acquired cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, up from 262 cases a day earlier. The state has struggled to contain a surge of the highly infectious Delta variant despite a lockdown of Sydney now in its seventh week. Neighbouring Victoria state eased restrictions after reporting 11 new Covid-19 cases, the same as the previous day. The majority of the new cases in Victoria spent time in the community while infectious but state Premier Daniel Andrews lifted the lockdown of areas outside the state capital of Melbourne. Melbourne would remain in lockdown — for the sixth time since the pandemic begun — until at least August 12. In Brisbane, capital of Queensland, authorities reported four new local cases yesterday, the first day after the city came out of stay-at-home restrictions. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under fire for a sluggish vaccine rollout, with only 22% of Australians above 16 fully vaccinated. An opinion poll by the Australian newspaper showed his public approval rating had hit its lowest since the pandemic began. Morrison acknowledged mounting frustrations but urged people to be patient. “I know they’re sick of it, I know they’re angry and I know they want it to stop and for life to get back to where they knew it,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra. “But there can be no short cuts.” Australia has reported about 36,250 cases and 939 deaths, including a woman in her 90s whose death in Sydney was reported yesterday. Morrison has said all Australians over 16 will be offered a vaccine by the end of the year, with prospects for achieving that boosted yesterday when the pharmaceutical regulator gave provisional approval for the Moderna shot.