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Australia's third-largest city enters snap lockdown as WHO sounds alarm on Delta

Worldwide, coronavirus infections are once again on the upswing.

A health worker swabs a young girl at a pop-up Covid-19 testing station at Indooroopilly State High School in Brisbane, 31 July.
A health worker swabs a young girl at a pop-up Covid-19 testing station at Indooroopilly State High School in Brisbane, 31 July.
Image: AAP/PA Images

AUSTRALIA’S THIRD-LARGEST CITY of Brisbane and other parts of Queensland state will enter a snap Covid-19 lockdown from today as authorities race to contain an emerging outbreak of the Delta strain.

Millions of residents in the city and several other areas will be placed under stay-at-home orders from this afternoon for three days, state Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.

“The only way to beat the Delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” Miles said.

Six new cases were reported today in a cluster of the Delta variant initially linked to a school student, resulting in pupils and teachers at two schools being placed into isolation.

Genome sequencing had connected the cluster to returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine but the exact source of transmission remained unclear, Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said.

In the “strictest lockdown” the city has enforced, residents will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, including buying groceries and exercising.

Brisbane’s snap lockdown comes as Australia’s largest city of Sydney and its surroundings completed a fifth week of lockdown, with authorities struggling to stop the spread of a Delta variant outbreak there.

“We cannot afford to be complacent just because we have done so well so far. We all we have to comply with these restrictions,” Miles said.

Sydney recorded 210 new local cases today, slightly down from the record number reached earlier in the week.

Police were out in force around the city, attempting to prevent anti-lockdown protesters from gathering after thousands poured through the streets and sparked violent clashes with officers last week.

With close to just 14% of the population fully vaccinated, authorities around the country continue to rely on lockdowns to reduce people’s movements and slow the spread of the virus.

Yesterday, the country’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison outlined a long road out of restrictions – setting a target of 80% of the population to be fully vaccinated before the government would reopen borders and end lockdowns.

xinhua-headlines-facing-delta-variant-china-upgrades-measures-to-contain-latest-covid-19-resurgence Students line up to receive Covid-19 vaccines at a vaccination site in Mentougou District of Beijing Source: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Worldwide, coronavirus infections are once again on the upswing, with the World Health Organization announcing an 80% average increase over the past four weeks in five of the health agency’s six regions, a jump largely fuelled by the Delta variant.

“Delta is a warning: it’s a warning that the virus is evolving but it is also a call to action that we need to move now before more dangerous variants emerge,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference.

He stressed that the “game plan” still works, namely physical distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene and vaccination.

But both high- and low-income countries are struggling to gain the upper hand against Delta, with the vastly unequal sprint for shots leaving plenty of room for variants to wreak havoc and further evolve.

In China, mushrooming outbreaks of the highly contagious variant promoted authorities there to impose stricter Covid-19 restrictions. 

China’s most serious surge of coronavirus infections in months spread to two more areas Saturday – Fujian province and the sprawling megacity of Chongqing.

More than 200 cases have been linked to a Delta cluster in Nanjing city where nine cleaners at an international airport tested positive, with the outbreak spanning Beijing, Chongqing and five provinces as of today.

‘The war has changed’

The race for vaccines to triumph over variants appeared to suffer a blow as the US Centers for Disease Control released an analysis that found fully immunised people with so-called breakthrough infections of the Delta variant can spread the disease as easily as unvaccinated people.

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While the jabs remain effective against severe disease and death, the US government agency said in a leaked internal CDC document “the war has changed” as a result of Delta.

An analysis of a superspreading event in the northeastern state of Massachusetts found three-quarters of the people sickened were vaccinated, according to a report the CDC published Friday.

The outbreak related to 4 July festivities, with the latest number of people infected swelling to 900, according to local reports. The findings were used to justify a return to masks for vaccinated people in high-risk areas.

“As a vaccinated person, if you have one of these breakthrough infections, you may have mild symptoms, you may have no symptoms, but based on what we’re seeing here you could be contagious to other people,” Celine Gounder, an infectious diseases physician and professor at New York University, told AFP.

According to the leaked CDC document, a review of findings from other countries showed that while the original SARS-CoV-2 was as contagious as the common cold, each person with Delta infects on average eight others, making it as transmissible as chickenpox but still less than measles.

Reports from Canada, Scotland and Singapore suggest Delta infections may also be more severe, resulting in more hospitalisations.

Asked if Americans should expect new recommendations from health authorities or new restrictive measures, US President Joe Biden responded, “in all probability,” before leaving the White House by helicopter for the weekend.

He did not specify what steps could be taken.

 © – AFP, 2021

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