Australia’s Canberra extends COVID-19 lockdown

CANBERRA, (Reuters) – Australia’s Canberra on Tuesday extended its hard lockdown by a further two weeks as the capital city struggles to contain a surge in the highly infectious Delta variant.

Much of Australia’s east coast has been under strict movement restrictions for weeks, hitting the local economy, and with cases still soaring, Canberra said it will remain in lockdown until at least Sept. 17.

“We are bending the curve down and are getting on top of the outbreak. However, it is a slow process and it will take more time,” Australian Capital Territory Chief Minister Andrew Barr told reporters in Canberra.

On Tuesday, Canberra reported 13 new cases in the past 24 hours. New South Wales reported 1,164 new infections, down slightly from a record 1,290 cases the day prior.

Canberra has been in lockdown for three weeks after a spate of cases believed to have spread from New South Wales, the epicentre of Australia’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The extension of Canberra’s lockdown is likely to soon be followed by a similar move by Australia’s second most populous state.

Victoria, which has been in lockdown for five weeks, on Tuesday reported 76 new locally acquired coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, up marginally from 73 cases reported the previous day.

State Premier Dan Andrews said too many people remain unvaccinated to significantly ease restrictions, but that Victoria would outline on Wednesday a plan to reduce curbs as vaccination levels rise.

Australia has used a system of strict lockdowns and quarantine to keep coronavirus infection and death rates lower than in most comparable nations, but the Delta variant is now pressuring health services amid a slow vaccination rollout.

Australia has recorded nearly 54,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,006 deaths since the start of the pandemic.