Lagging vaccine rollout, quarantine breaches threaten COVID-19 control in major Australian cities

Source: Xinhua| 2021-06-21 15:10:33|Editor: huaxia
Video PlayerClose

SYDNEY, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Australia's three most populous cities Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane all recorded new COVID-19 community cases over the weekend, leading to heightened restrictions.

There are currently 132 active cases of COVID-19 across the country, with the majority in the states of New South Wales (NSW), Queensland, and Victoria.

On Sunday, Sydney recorded two new locally acquired cases, while Melbourne and Brisbane recorded one each.

An additional two local cases in Sydney were announced on Monday morning, bringing the total number to 11 in the latest outbreak that stemmed from a case of the Delta variant last week.

Altogether 25,252 tests were conducted till 8:00 p.m. Sunday night, compared with the previous day's total of 24,468. However, the authorities hoped more people would volunteer to get tested, with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian calling for 40,000 people to be tested each day.

"With this current outbreak, we have not experienced a super-spreading event. That is what we want to prevent," said Berejiklian.

Wearing face masks has been made mandatory on public transport across greater Sydney since Thursday, and these measures were broadened to include indoor areas such as retail shops, movie theaters and aged care facilities in certain areas of Sydney from Sunday.

Beyond this, NSW Health is advising people to work from home if they can.

"Everyone is strongly urged to avoid gatherings and minimize their movements, such as not attending the cinemas or trips to the ski fields," the health department said in a statement.

Residents who have visited the Sydney hot spots will be required to self-isolate when traveling to several states in Australia, including the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria.

In the neighboring state of Queensland, the new case recorded on Sunday broke the zero local case streak since March 30.

The case came from an international cabin crew member in her 30s who tested positive hours after finishing 14 days of mandatory hotel quarantine after returning from Portugal.

It was believed the woman acquired infection from another cabin crew member who is in hotel quarantine, and the health department is on alert since she visited several locations such as shops and restaurants. Investigation is also under way to determine how the transmission in hotel quarantine occurred.

"We are urgently contact tracing people with whom she shared a shuttle bus, at her accommodation, and at the restaurant," said Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young.

Melbourne's latest case, a primary close contact of a cluster in the southern part of the city, came following the end of a two-week "circuit breaker" lockdown that lasted from May 27 to June 10 -- the fourth lockdown that the city experienced since January 2020.

At the same time, Victoria also recorded eight cases in returned travelers while the authorities ruled out the need to change the current arrangements for the group.

Professor Raina MacIntyre, biosecurity expert from the University of New South Wales told Xinhua that the latest outbreaks in the most populous cities of Australia are a part of a trend of repeated breaches in hotel quarantine in Australia since last year.

"The presence of the more transmissible Delta strain raises the stakes, as if there are undetected chains of community transmission. It will be harder to control than previously," MacIntyre said.

"The slow vaccine rollout also makes the situation riskier, as most Australians are still unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated."

As of June 21, Australia has delivered 6,590,741 vaccine doses, with a daily increase of 34,712, which still lags about 4.3 million doses behind the federal government's current target.

The government has ramped up efforts to immunize more people by improving access to vaccines and lowering the age requirements for eligibility -- doses now being offered to Australians over 40.

During Monday's national cabinet meeting, John Frewen, who is in charge of logistics for the vaccine rollout, said "we have a plan to offer vaccines to all Australians by the end of the year and I encourage all Australians that we should pull together to protect both ourselves and our fellow citizens by getting vaccinated."

The latest outbreak also prompted more people to get vaccinated, as in the week ending June 20, NSW Health administered 90,485 vaccines, the highest to date.

"If the outbreak worsens, I expect the control measures will be stepped up, such as broader mask mandates and possible lockdown," MacIntyre told Xinhua. Enditem