SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Sydney’s COVID-19 cases rose to a new daily record on Wednesday, putting parts of the health system under “severe pressure”, officials said, as they urged an increase in vaccinations to help curb the rate of hospitalisations.
Despite two months of lockdowns, New South Wales (NSW) state reported 919 new cases amid a growing Delta variant outbreak, taking Australia’s daily case numbers to a new pandemic high just below 1,000. A total of 113 people in the state are in intensive care, with 98 of those unvaccinated.
“This highlights … the fact that vaccination is the key. We need to increase those vaccine coverage levels,” state Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told a briefing.
Australia, grappling to control a third wave of the coronavirus, has locked down more than half of its 25 million population, including its largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and is accelerating an initially sluggish vaccine rollout.
Around 31% of people above 16 have been fully vaccinated, while 54% have had at least one dose.
“We have made the point that the most important figure moving forward is the rate of vaccination and that remains the case,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital.
“There is no doubt that parts of the hospital network are under severe pressure when most of the cases, 80% of cases are coming out of the same region,” she added, pointing to the high case numbers in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs.
The spike in cases comes as Australia’s federal government pressed states to stick to a four-stage national reopening plan agreed last month, as some have suggested delays given the persistently high new daily case numbers in Sydney.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned state leaders on Wednesday that current emergency economic supports may be withdrawn when the country hits a 70-80% COVID-19 vaccination rate, even if states and territories decide to retain border controls.
“There should be no expectation on behalf of premiers and chief ministers that our emergency economic support will continue at the scale that it is currently,” Frydenberg told broadcaster Seven News.
In Victoria, new cases fell for a second straight day, with 45 new cases detected, down from 50 a day earlier, as officials seek to boost the vaccine rollout by allowing anyone over 16 to book an appointment from Wednesday.
Despite the recent Delta outbreaks, Australia’s coronavirus numbers are still relatively low, with just over 46,600 cases and 986 deaths. Deaths from the latest outbreak have risen to 76, although the death rate has slowed from last year.