COVID-19 cases rise in Australia’s Victoria as lockdown extension looms

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria state saw a jump in new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday as the government prepared to extend a hard lockdown to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant.

The lockdown is due to end on Thursday but Premier Daniel Andrews has flagged an extension given the steady rise in infections.

A total of 120 new local cases were detected in Victoria on Wednesday, up from 76 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 56 are not linked to any infections in the current outbreak.

Officials in Victoria, which includes Melbourne, had promised easing of some restrictions if cases remained low and vaccination rates rose.

A meeting of senior state ministers overnight discussed if a night curfew could be removed and playgrounds opened if there was no spike in cases, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported without citing a source.

Neighbouring New South Wales (NSW), home to Australia’s largest city of Sydney, is also struggling with a Delta outbreak despite more than two months of lockdown. Cases have topped 1,000 in the state for the past four days.

NSW officials say the pathway back to freedom is higher vaccination coverage. So far 37% of people in the state above 16 years of age are fully vaccinated, with easing of some curbs promised once that rate hits 70%-80%.

Despite the recent flare-ups, Australia has managed to keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with nearly 54,000 cases and 1,008 deaths.In a bid to boost supply – one of the major contraints on the vaccine rollout – Australia entered into a vaccine swap agreement with Singapore on Tuesday for 500,000 Pfizer (PFE.N) doses, which will arrive soon. The government has also bought about 1 million emergency shots from Poland.