COVID-19 cases rise in Australia’s Victoria as regions exit lockdown

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria state reported its biggest single-day rise in COVID-19 cases this year, the majority in Melbourne, as most other regions in the state exited lockdown on Friday.

Officials have announced plans to bring Melbourne and Sydney out of extended lockdowns in coming weeks, despite infections continuing to rise in both of the country’s two biggest cities.

The shift to a strategy of living with, rather than suppressing, the virus after hitting national vaccine coverage of 70-80% is part of a four-stage national reopening plan unveiled by the federal government in July. The national vaccination rate for adults is currently at around 40%.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, whose state on Friday reported 334 new locally acquired cases and one death, has said lockdown restrictions in Melbourne will not be eased until 70% of the adult population has received at least one vaccine dose, which is expected around Sept. 23.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday said Sydney’s businesses could reopen once 70% of the state’s adult population is fully vaccinated, a target due to be reached around the middle of October.

Berejiklian on Friday denied going against the advice of the state’s health officials who, according to local media reports, wanted restrictions to ease only when vaccination levels topped 80%.

“All along this journey it has always been balancing the health risks with mental health and ability to move freely and live with COVID,” Berejiklian told Nine News. “We are definitely in a transition phase and it is going to be challenging.”

Australia’s capital, Canberra, has also been subjected to lockdown measures because of the Delta variant outbreak but most other cities largely enjoy a COVID-free life.

Australia’s total infection numbers stand at 68,400 cases, including 1,067 deaths.