Australia’s Victoria reports 183 local COVID-19 cases

MELBOURNE, (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria, home to more than a quarter of the country’s 25-million population, reported 183 new locally acquired coronavirus cases on Sunday as the outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant grows.

Of the infections, 101 were linked to existing outbreaks, health department said on its Twitter account. There are 1,417 active cases now in the state.

More than 15 million people in Victoria, neighbouring New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have been in weekslong lockdown to quell Australia’s worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic so far.

The lockdowns, which keep internal borders between states and territories closed, are part of a federally advised strategy to manage the outbreaks until at least 70% of those 16 and older get fully vaccinated.

The plan also envisages that Australia might start gradually reopening its international borders, closed since March 2020, when 80% people receive the shots.

Due to the scarce supply of the Pfizer (PFE.N)vaccine and public unease about AstraZeneca (AZN.L), only about 37% have been vaccinated so far. The pace has picked up considerably with the federal government racing to secure more Pfizer shots.

Based on current rates, the 70% target may be achieved in late October of early November.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated on Sunday that the current Delta outbreak cannot be fully eliminated – a successful strategy used by states and territories in earlier waves – but that achieving the vaccination targets can allow for travel.

“And everyone can make plans for a family Christmas, with all our loved ones at the dinner table, cracking bon-bons and bad jokes together,” Morrison told the Sunday Herald Sun.

“Nobody wants COVID to be the virus that stole Christmas, and we have a plan and the vaccinations available to ensure that’s not the case.”