SYDNEY, July 23 — Australia’s Victoria state reported a slight easing in new Covid-19 cases on Friday, while neighbouring New South Wales braces for another rise in infections despite more than half the country’s population in lockdown.
Victorian officials reported 14 new locally transmitted cases, down from 26 a day earlier, all linked to the current outbreak of the highly infectious Delta strain.
New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard, meanwhile, told a local radio station that his state will report new daily cases have exceeded Thursday’s record for 2021 of 124. State officials are scheduled to give a daily update at 11.00am (0100 GMT) local time.
More than 13 million people are living under lockdowns as the fast-moving Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads across three of the country’s major cities — Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide — and some regional areas.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is expected to provide an update at 1:30pm local time (0130 GMT) about the so-called “travel bubble” with Australia that allows movement between the two countries without quarantine.
The arrangement has already been paused for travellers to and from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
With just over 32,400 Covid-19 cases and 915 deaths, Australia has fared much better than many other developed economies, but stop-and-start lockdowns and a sluggish vaccine rollout have frustrated residents.
The Sydney lockdown is currently scheduled to run until July 30, while strict stay-home orders in Victoria and South Australia are in place until July 27.
Of major concern to health officials is the number of newly detected cases involving people who have been out in public while infected.
That number has remained stubbornly high in Sydney, despite lockdown measures of varying severity that have been in place for a month. In Melbourne, officials said 10 of the 14 cases reported on Thursday were in quarantine during their entire infectious period.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday apologised for the slow vaccination rollout. His government is targeting full vaccination of the adult population by the end of the year. Just 15 per cent have been vaccinated so far.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Friday said the country’s drug regulator has approved the use of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in children aged 12 to 15, although there were no immediate plans to add that group to the national rollout. — Reuters