The Australian state of Victoria has extended its lockdown for another three weeks after tough restrictions failed to lower the number of daily new coronavirus cases.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says restrictions will only ease when 70% of eligible residents receive their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
That’s expected to happen on or around September 23. So far, 56% of people aged 16 and above have received their first dose.
“What we must do is suppress case numbers sufficiently to buy us time to get people vaccinated. What that means is that we can’t ease restrictions today in any profound way,” Andrews said.
“We are in for a difficult time, a challenging time over these coming weeks.”
Victoria recorded 120 new cases on Wednesday, up from 76 on Tuesday, but substantially less than the 1,116 cases recorded in neighboring New South Wales, which also reported four new deaths.
The leaders of both states concede they will not be able to eliminate the virus and are racing to vaccinate their populations before removing most lockdown restrictions, in line with the national plan.
Sydney is now entering its third month of lockdown after imposing restrictions on movement on June 26.
NSW officials said the pathway back to freedom is higher vaccination coverage. So far 37% of people in the state above 16 years of age are fully vaccinated, with easing of some curbs promised once that rate hits 70% or 80%.
Despite the recent flare-ups, Australia has managed to keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with nearly 54,000 cases and fewer than 1,050 deaths.
In a bid to boost supply — one of the major constraints on the vaccine rollout — Australia entered into a vaccine swap agreement with Singapore on Tuesday for 500,000 Pfizer doses, which will arrive soon. The government has also bought about 1 million emergency shots from Poland.
Neighboring New Zealand has recorded 75 new confirmed Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, all but one of which were in the city of Auckland. Auckland and the surrounding areas have been in lockdown since August 17, which is referred to as Alert Level 4 in New Zealand.
But speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, New Zealand’s Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the higher numbers was “not unexpected,” saying the reproductive rate of the virus in the community was still “promising.”
“Of the cases we reported yesterday, just 25% were considered to have been infectious in the community in the time before they were diagnosed,” he said, adding he expected the number of cases to continue to decline.
“We are successfully breaking the chains of transmission.”