A COVID-19 outbreak in Australia is worsening according to official figures released Saturday, while state authorities in New South Wales now concede they may have to abandon the long-held policy of trying to eliminate the virus as delta variant infections surge in Sydney.
More than half of the population in Australia’s three biggest cities, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, are in lockdown.
State authorities in Victoria have recorded 29 new coronavirus cases in the past day, while Queensland confirmed 13 new infections on Saturday.
An outbreak of the delta variant in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, is worsening. Three hundred nineteen new cases were diagnosed in the last 24 hours. This is the first time the state has recorded more than 300 infections in a day since the pandemic began. Eighty-four people have died since the outbreak was detected in mid-June.
These statistics might seem small compared to other countries, but in the Australian context they are significant.
Australia has had a policy of trying to crush the virus through international border closures and strict lockdowns, but officials have suggested that eliminating the contagion, and whatever form it could take next, might not be possible given the highly infectious nature of the delta variant.
Instead, they believe Australia might have to learn to live with COVID-19.
Brad Hazzard, the New South Wales health minister, though, remains optimistic cases numbers can be sharply reduced if lockdown restrictions are obeyed.
"Look, I still harbor hope that we'll get back to zero, but delta is a pretty wild variant of the virus. It is wreaking havoc across the world,” Hazzard said. "It is almost a level of self-entitlement to think that you don't have to have the vaccine, but your neighbors do. Well, no, you all do. We all do. Every one of us, and if you don’t get the vaccine and we don't follow the rules, well, it makes it more difficult to get back to zero but I'm still hopeful we’ll get there.”
Vaccination rates remain low in comparison to many other countries because of a lack of supply and community concerns about possible side effects. Only about 20% of Australians are fully inoculated. Authorities say those vaccination rates need to be between 50% and 80% for lockdown restrictions to be relaxed.
Georgie Harman, the head of the mental health charity Beyond Blue, says the virus is inflicting immense psychological distress.
"We have been saying since the pandemic started here in Australia that the aftershocks and the long tail of the mental health impacts will be not just long, but actually really deep,” Harman said.
About 36,000 coronavirus cases have been detected in Australia since the pandemic began. Nine hundred thirty-two people have died, according to the Health Department.