Australia’s NSW state says coronavirus vaccination pace slows

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – The government of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) said on Monday the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations had slowed as first-dose coverage neared 80% and urged the unvaccinated to get shots soon or risk missing out on freedoms when curbs ease.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has promised to relax some restrictions for the state’s 8 million residents once two-dose vaccination rates hit 70%, expected to be around the middle of next month. So far, about 46% of the state’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, above the national average of 42%.

“For those of you who choose not to be vaccinated, that is your choice, but don’t expect to do everything that vaccinated people do when we hit 80%,” Berejiklian said at a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital.

“Our vaccination rates keep increasing, however there has been a slight slowdown. So we encourage everybody to come forward and get vaccinated.”

Some curbs were eased for fully vaccinated residents in Sydney from Monday. Five people will be allowed to meet outside while members from the same family in Sydney’s 12 hardest-hit suburbs can gather outside for two hours.

Australia is scrambling to control outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus that began in Sydney in June and spread to Melbourne and Canberra, plunging nearly half the population of 25 million into lockdown. Other state capitals, however, have few or zero cases.

The steady rise in infections has turned up the heat on the federal government to procure emergency vaccine supplies. An additional 1 million doses of Moderna (MRNA.O) was bought from the European Union on Sunday while vaccine swap deals with Britain and Singapore were executed over the last two weeks.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, head of the federal government’s vaccination taskforce, said there would be enough vaccines from the middle of October to fully inoculate every eligible person. The COVID-19 vaccination drive was expanded on Monday to include around one million children aged 12-15.

Australian biotech company CSL (CSL.AX), which locally produces the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine, said a positive case was detected at its Melbourne facility but production would not be interrupted.

Australia’s total cases stand at around 75,300, including 1,098 deaths, although the mortality rate in the latest outbreak is lower than last year.

A total of 1,257 new cases were registered in New South Wales on Monday, while neighbouring Victoria reported 473 new infections, its biggest one-day rise for 2021.