SYDNEY - Widespread flooding is disrupting the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations in Australia as thousands of people are forced to leave their homes.
Emergency crews in eastern Australia have responded to thousands of calls for help. The rain in many areas has been unrelenting. For the first time in years, Sydney’s main reservoir is overflowing, putting suburbs at risk of flooding. Authorities are reporting once-in-a-century downpours north of Sydney, and thousands of people have been told to leave their homes.
Near the town of Taree, a house occupied by a young couple was washed away down a river by floodwaters on what was supposed to have been their wedding day.
The bride, Sarah Soars, told Australian television the property was swept away within minutes.
“I am lost for words. I do not know even what to say, like, everything that we owned, everything that we worked hard for (has) gone within ten minutes and it was out of our sight,” Soars said.
Campaign group Greenpeace has linked the severe storms in eastern Australia to climate change, and the burning of coal, oil and gas.
The wild weather is disrupting Australia’s mass coronavirus inoculation program.
More than six million Australians are now eligible for an injection in the next phase of the vaccination rollout.
Australia’s medical regulator has approved domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt says the drug is safe.
“This is a fundamental decision which locks in for Australia access to 50 million units of domestically produced vaccines. It means that the manufacturing process has been approved. It is safe, effective (and) meets all of the requirements from one of the toughest regulators in the world,” Hunt said.
Vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Pfizer are approved for use in Australia.
One of Australia’s most senior medical officials, Federal Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy, has said international travel into and out of Australia would be severely restricted for the rest of the year until global COVID-19 vaccinations are more widely administered.
Australia closed its international borders a year ago to foreign travelers because of the pandemic.
Murphy said life in Australia would get back to normal, but it would take time and patience was needed.
Australia has recorded 29,196 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. 909 people have died, according to the Health Department.