More than two-thirds of Australians have been placed under new lockdown rules as cases of the Indian variant have flared up across the country after escaping from quarantine hotels.
With just 5 per cent of the population fully vaccinated and the more infectious strain on the loose, Australia’s vaunted ‘zero Covid’ strategy – which allowed its economy to get back up and running last year – is on precarious ground.
Around 18 million Australians, 70 per cent of the population, are now under some form of lockdown restrictions after cases of the Indian variant exploded out of quarantine hotels in Brisbane, Darwin, Perth and Sydney.
The largest outbreak is in Sydney, where 130 people have tested positive for Covid-19 since a limousine driver for an international flight crew was diagnosed with the Indian variant on June 16. The city’s residents are now under a draconian stay-at-home order for two weeks.
Scott Morrison, who is under fire for the glacial vaccine roll-out, constant ‘circuit breakers’ and brutal border restrictions, chaired a national security committee on Monday before announcing that all care home workers must have a vaccine. The PM also ordered mandatory jabs for anyone working, either directly or indirectly, in quarantine hotels – including airport private hire drivers.
Mr Morrison made another policy shift as he invited anyone under 40 to get an AstraZeneca jab if they want to, despite earlier advice that younger people should get another vaccine.
Around 18 million Australians, 70 per cent of the population, are now under some form of lockdown after cases of the Indian variant exploded out of quarantine hotels in Brisbane, Darwin, Perth and Sydney
Prime Minister Scott Morrison (right) chaired a cabinet’s national security committee on Monday for emergency discussions as Covid outbreaks have popped up across several states (pictured, left, health workers conduct Covid tests at the St. Vincents Hospital drive-through testing clinic at Bondi Beach on Saturday)
Mounted Police patrol as a surfer walks on the grass at Bondi Beach amid touch new lockdown restriction in Sydney on Monday
Business owners, who basked in the early success of the government’s response to the virus, are now concerned about how much longer the constant ‘circuit breakers’ will continue to plague their livelihoods.
James Powditch, who runs an art studio in Sydney, told CNN: ‘We can’t leave the country, people can’t come in, and we end up periodically in lockdowns, which cost a friggin’ fortune.
‘People have been accepting that this is a diabolically difficult situation, but once we start watching the rest of the world open up, we’re going to turn to anger over the way things like vaccines have been rolled out here.’
In the north, a 48-hour lockdown of Darwin and surrounding areas – due to end Tuesday – was extended to Friday after a cluster linked to an outback gold mine grew to seven cases.
Naked sunbathers are fined $1,000 along with another 44 Aussies who flouted stay-at-home orders
Two men who got lost in the bush after being startled by a deer while sunbathing naked are among dozens who have been fined by police for breaching coronavirus restrictions.
They included two men who had to be rescued from Royal National Park in Otford, south of Sydney, after they got lost in the bush when a deer startled them while they were sunbathing at a remote beach.
There was also café owner in Wollongong fined for refusing to wear a mask while serving customers on Saturday, and a western Sydney man fleeing the city.
Emergency services launched a search through the national park after the lost nudist pair raised the alarm late Sunday afternoon.
Police said one man, 30, was found naked and carrying a backpack on the walking track before the other man, 49, was found partially clothed a short time later.
They were each fined $1,000 for breaching the public health order which prohibits Sydneysiders from travelling outside the city.
The miner flew into Brisbane on June 18 and is believed to have been infected in a quarantine hotel before arriving at Newmont Corporation’s Tanami gold mine.
All mine workers who travelled to Alice Springs and Darwin are in isolation, while authorities are frantically trying to track and trace 900 miners across Australia who may have had contact with the initial case.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said that for the first time during the pandemic there were hotspots of local transmission in Darwin, which is home to a large indigenous population feared to be more vulnerable to Covid-19.
‘The risk to the community has grown in the past 24 hours. We are now in an extremely critical period. We must stay in lockdown while we keep this virus trapped,’ he said, urging Aboriginal people living in remote areas not to travel to Darwin.
Authorities in the cities of Perth and Brisbane again tightened local restrictions Monday, with masks mandatory and limits on social gatherings imposed on more than two million people in Brisbane and surroundings.
It comes after a retail worker at the DFO shopping centre near Brisbane Airport tested positive last week before her husband also developed symptoms.
In Perth, a woman tested positive after returning from a known hotspot in Sydney.
As well as the tougher social distancing rules, Western Australia tightened its borders with the Northern Territory and Queensland. A hard border remains with New South Wales – the state which Sydney belongs to.
Other regions without confirmed cases have ramped up their rules protectively, with masks now required indoors in the nation’s capital Canberra and sweeping restrictions announced for South Australia.
‘We feel, given the nature of the rapid spread of the Delta virus, we have no alternative but to take pre-emptive action in South Australia to keep our state and our economy strong,’ said state Premier Steven Marshall.
Australia has recorded a total of just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths in a population of about 25 million since the pandemic began.
Officials have been quick to implement restrictions when clusters emerge – almost always after the virus escapes the hotel quarantine system.
But the latest measures are among the most widespread since a nationwide lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic.
Even New Zealand, the only country with an open travel corridor with Australia, announced a three-day suspension of quarantine-free travel starting on Saturday because of the outbreaks.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called a meeting of national leaders late Monday as his government faces a fresh round of criticism for a sluggish vaccine rollout and failing to improve the leaky hotel quarantine system.
People are tested for Covid-19 at a pop up clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney, Monday. More than five million people in Greater Sydney and its surrounds have gone into a 14-day lockdown as health authorities try to regain control of a coronavirus outbreak
Royal Prince Alfred Hospital at Camperdown in Sydney’s inner west had seen hundreds of people turn up to its vaccination centre on Monday (pictured)
Crowds queue outside a vaccination centre in Sydney on Thursday as the highly-infectious Delta Covid strain spreads across the city
Almost 7.4 million vaccine doses have been administered to date, but only a small fraction of people have received both jabs.
Australia’s 4 per cent of the population double-jabbed, compares to 46 per cent in the United States and 47 per cent in the United Kingdom.
The problem is aggravated by vaccine hesitancy in Australia. A survey by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age found that 15 per cent of adults were ‘not at all likely’ and 14 per cent were ‘not very likely’ to have a jab.
The survey was taken shortly after European countries started to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over sporadic cases of blood clots.
Morrison is aiming to reach herd immunity – have around 80 per cent of the population vaccinated – before reopening the country’s borders. But earlier this month he was unable to commit to even a Christmas 2022 reopening.
The PM has claimed that vaccine supply is going to ‘really kick in next month in July,’ with another 600,000 doses of Pfizer arriving next week.
Pedestrians wearing face masks in the deserted central area of Sydney on Monday
A food delivery cyclist rides down a deserted shopping street in Sydney on Monday amid new lockdown measures
‘The challenge we’ve had, of course, has been with AstraZeneca. I mean, the medical advice has restricted its availability to those over 60, and prior to that over 50. Now, that was a big shock to the rollout and they are events outside of the government’s control,’ he told Channel 9.
‘So, we’ll keep working towards that goal, by the end of the year, of offering that vaccine to everybody who would want one and there will be an escalating ramp-up as we move through the second half of the year,’ he added.
His government is also facing criticisms for leaving Australian citizens stranded overseas, with tough hotel quarantine measures making the prospect of visiting family not just extortionately expensive but almost impossible for expats working abroad.
And it’s just as difficult to leave, with the government requiring a special exemption for those who want to travel outside Australia.