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New Australian virus cases soar over 1,000 for first time

New South Wales state announced a record 1,029 cases of Covid-19 for the previous 24 hours.

Quiet city centre streets during the current period of lockdown in Sydney, Australia.
Quiet city centre streets during the current period of lockdown in Sydney, Australia.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

AUSTRALIA TODAY REPORTED more than 1,000 new local coronavirus cases for the first time during the pandemic, as a Delta variant outbreak surged in Sydney.

New South Wales state, which includes the country’s most populous city Sydney, announced a record 1,029 cases of Covid-19 for the previous 24 hours.

An outbreak that began in the city in mid-June has reached over 15,000 cases and spread to smaller towns and cities, prompting the return of lockdowns and travel restrictions across Australia’s populated southeast.

Despite the soaring figures and growing pressure on hospitals, state premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a modest easing of restrictions for vaccinated people from mid-September.

Up to five fully vaccinated people will be allowed to gather outdoors in non-hotspot areas after New South Wales hit a target of six million jabs in a population of about eight million.

“That was the option that met the mental health and wellbeing of our community but also provided the lowest risk setting,” Berejiklian said.

She said the health system was able to cope with the added strain after capacity was boosted, pledging that “everybody who needs help will get that help”.

It came as authorities extended stay-at-home orders for the rest of New South Wales to 10 September, as concerns grew over rising cases in regional areas that deputy premier John Barilaro described as “a tinderbox ready to explode”.

Meanwhile, Victoria state – which is grappling with a smaller outbreak that emerged in Melbourne – announced a further 80 new cases Thursday.

More than half of Australia’s 25 million people are stuck in lockdown, including in Sydney where residents have been under stay-at-home orders for more than two months.

Australia’s sluggish vaccine rollout has picked up in recent weeks as more supplies reached the country, with almost one-third of adults now fully vaccinated.

The nation has recorded almost 48,000 cases and nearly 1,000 deaths during the pandemic to date.

Zero Covid

Meanwhile in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended her ‘Covid zero’ elimination strategy amid fears an outbreak of the Delta variant has rendered the previously successful policy ineffective.

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A Delta case emerged in Auckland last week, ending a six-month run without local transmission in New Zealand.

That infection has since increased into the largest cluster the country has recorded throughout the entire pandemic, with 277 cases.

Ardern said she believed even the Delta variant could again be stamped out in the community and health experts were advising her to stick with the elimination approach.

“In their view, it’s not only possible, it remains the best strategy and I totally agree,” she said today after announcing 68 new community cases.

Her Australian counterpart Scott Morrison this week said it was “just absurd” to try to eliminate Delta, adding: “New Zealand can’t do that.”

Australia pursued a Covid-zero policy for about 18 months, but runaway Delta outbreaks mean some authorities there are now talking more about containment than elimination.

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AFP

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