SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Tuesday warned Sydney residents to brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases in the coming weeks, urging people to get vaccinated to avoid more hospitalisations and deaths as daily infections hovered near record levels.
“We envisage that case numbers in the next two or three weeks will bounce around and are likely to rise substantially,” New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city and the epicentre of the country’s outbreak, has toughened lockdown rules, including setting up roadblocks in parts of the city, and has hiked fines amid reports of people flouting strict stay-at-home orders.
But the strict curbs, now in their eighth week, have failed to rein in the Delta outbreak, with NSW on Tuesday reporting 452 cases – its third-biggest daily rise during the pandemic – and one new death.
A case was detected as far away as Broken Hill, a mining town more than 900 km (560 miles) northwest of Sydney deep in Australia’s outback, as the virus spreads to more regional centres raising fears of wider outbreaks.
With no flattening of the curve in sight, the chances of restrictions ending on Aug. 28 in Sydney appears highly unlikely, with some economists predicting a second recession in Australia in as many years due to the lockdowns.
The highly infectious Delta strain has now plunged more than half of Australia’s 25 million population under strict stay-at-home restrictions.
Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and capital Canberra are in a weeks-long lockdown while a snap three-day lockdown was enforced on Monday in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, after one new case.
‘MUCH FREER LIFE’
Berejiklian urged people to get inoculated faster to push the state’s percentage of fully vaccinated adults from about 27% to 70%, when “life will be much freer than what it is today.”
“Does it mean we live completely freely? No. But does it mean we’ll live more freely than we do today? Absolutely,” she said.
A total of 57 people, most of them unvaccinated, have died in the latest outbreak in Sydney since July 11. There were no COVID-related deaths in Australia during 2021 until then.
Despite the recent Delta outbreaks, Australia’s coronavirus numbers are well below than many other countries in the developed world, with just over 40,000 cases and 967 deaths, but its vaccination figures are among the lowest.
Officials have been looking to ramp up the rollout by procuring emergency vaccine supplies from abroad and expect the pace of inoculations to pick up once more supplies arrive from October.
In Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, 24 new local cases were detected on Tuesday, the first day after officials reinstated a night curfew and extended a hard lockdown until Sept. 2. Twenty-two cases were reported on Monday.