Covid 19 coronavirus Delta outbreak: Australia concedes lockdowns are unsustainable
Continuous lockdowns are “unsustainable”, the Australian Prime Minister said on Monday, marking a shift in policy away from the rigid lockdowns that have characterised the country’s Covid response.
“That is our goal – to live with this virus, not to live in fear of it,” Scott Morrison told reporters.
His remarks came as PM Jacinda Ardern extended New Zealand’s lockdown until the end of the week in response to 107 Covid cases.
With over half of all Australians stuck in weeks-long lockdowns to curb the highly infectious Delta strain, Morrison said the country had to move forward and start reducing restrictions as more people became vaccinated.
Lockdowns “cannot go on forever”, he said during a televised media conference in Canberra.”This is not a sustainable way to live in this country.”
He added: “This groundhog day has to end, and it will end when we start getting to 70 per cent and 80 per cent [vaccination rates].”
Morrison spoke just as tighter restrictions took effect in Australia’s largest city, Sydney. As of Monday, masks are mandated outside the home, except when exercising, and a night-time curfew is in place in the 12 worst-affected council areas.
Australia has been a relative Covid-19 success story, with fewer than 1000 deaths in a country of more than 25 million people. However, the price of keeping low case numbers has been high, with millions locked down in response to small clusters of the virus.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian stressed on Monday that the Delta variant has made a zero-Covid target “completely unrealistic”, and all states and territories must learn to live with it when borders eventually reopen. Her state had previously suppressed Covid outbreaks with a contact tracing and self-isolation system hailed as the “gold standard” by Morrison, but the delta variant has smashed through their defences.
Australia and New Zealand have low vaccination rates – 24 per cent and 19 per cent respectively – with both nations relying on snap lockdowns to control the spread of the virus.
New Zealand was plunged back into lockdown last week after one initial case of the Delta variant.
Case numbers have jumped to 107, but the cluster is expected to expand in coming days to be the biggest ever seen in New Zealand.
Ardern said the lockdown will continue until at least the end of the month in Auckland, where most of the cases have been found.
“We do need more information. We need more certainty. We don’t want to take any risks with delta.
“If the world has taught us anything, it is to be cautious with this variant of Covid-19.”
Ardern said modeling suggested the outbreak should peak in a few days’ time, and then decline.
The strict lockdown means most people must remain at home, leaving only to buy food or medicine, or to exercise.
“New Zealand was not prepared for the arrival of Delta because Labour has failed to show the urgency on vaccinations that Kiwis deserve,” Judith Collins, the leader of the Opposition, said in a statement on Monday, adding many frontline workers remain unvaccinated.
Domestic media that had been largely favourable of Ardern’s success have also turned against her.
Bryce Edwards, a political analyst in residence at Victoria University of Wellington, said that Ardern’s government is being judged differently in its Covid-19 response in 2021 compared to 2020.
“This time around, people are much more sceptical about how the Government has been handling all of the Covid related issues, especially the vaccine roll-out which is judged to be too slow.”
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