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Delta Variant

Delta puts Australia's Covid-19 reopening schedule in doubt


Story by Asiaone

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Published on September 13, 2021 10:06 AM
 
 
SYDNEY - Australia's federal government on Friday (Sept 3) will look to convince states and territories to follow its national Covid-19 reopening plan as a steady rise in infections in Sydney and Melbourne from the Delta variant stoked concerns in virus-free states.

The national cabinet - a group of federal and state leaders - will meet later in the day as Queensland and Western Australia flagged they may delay plans to open their borders after vaccination rates reach 70 per cent-80 per cent from 36 per cent currently, targets agreed in July for the relaxation of some restrictions.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Thursday warned reopening borders could trigger a surge in infections in her state, which has 18 active cases, and proposed tighter controls "until I can get every child vaccinated".

Her comments drew criticism from the federal government, while some health experts said there was no evidence Delta posed a greater threat to children and such fears should not be used to delay the easing of lockdowns under the national plan.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told Nine News on Friday that ...

Background

COVID-19 pandemic in Australia

The COVID-19 pandemic in Australia is part of the ongoing worldwide pandemic of the coronavirus disease 2019 caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 . The first confirmed case in Australia was identified on 25 January 2020, in Victoria, when a man who had returned from Wuhan, Hubei, China, tested positive for the virus.

Australian borders were closed to all non-residents on 20 March, and returning residents were required to spend two weeks in supervised quarantine hotels from 27 March. Many individual states and territories also closed their borders to varying degrees, with some remaining closed until late 2020, and continuing to periodically close during localised outbreaks. Social distancing rules were imposed on 21 March, and state governments started to close 'non-essential' services. 'Non-essential services' included social gathering venues such as pubs and clubs but unlike many other countries did not include most business operations such as construction, manufacturing and many retail categories. The number of new cases initially grew sharply, then levelled out at about 350 per day around 22 March, and started falling at the beginning of April to under 20 cases per day by the end of the month.

A second wave of infections emerged in Victoria during May and June 2020, which was attributed to an outbreak at a Melbourne quarantine hotel. The second wave, though largely localised to Melbourne, was much more widespread and deadlier than the first; at its peak, the state had over 7,000 active cases. Victoria underwent a second strict lockdown which eventually lasted almost four months. The wave ended with zero new cases being recorded on 26 October 2020. Further cluster outbreaks occurred in late 2020 and mid-2021, with several brief 'snap lockdowns' announced in certain states to contain their spread, particularly as novel variants of SARS-CoV-2 arrived in Australia. In response to an outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, almost half of Australia's population and most major cities were in lockdown from early July 2021 with the outbreak continuing to worsen into August. In late August to mid-September 2021 Victoria had its first four deaths since late October 2020.

As of 11 September 2021, Australia has reported 73,605 cases, 25,486 recoveries, and 1,091 deaths, with Victoria's second wave accounting for about 80 per cent of fatalities. No deaths from COVID-19 were recorded in Australia from 28 December 2020 until 13 April 2021, when one death occurred in Queensland. There were then none until 10 July in New South Wales , deaths there continuing into September 2021. As of 11 September 2021 at least 177 NSW residents had died since the June outbreak of the Delta variant in Sydney.

The stated goal of the National Cabinet is 'suppression', as opposed to 'elimination', meaning continually trying to drive community transmission to zero but expecting that new outbreaks may occur. This is in contrast to the mitigation strategies implemented by most other nations. Compared to other Western countries, notably the United States and European countries, Australia's handling has been praised for its effectiveness, but has been criticized for its curbing of civil liberties. Distinctive aspects of that response included early interventions to reduce reflected transmission from countries other than China during late January and February 2020; early recruitment of a large contact tracing workforce; comparatively high public trust in government responses to the pandemic, at least compared to the US and later on, the use of short, intense lockdowns to facilitate exhaustive contact tracing of new outbreaks. Australia's international borders have also remained largely closed, with limited numbers of arrivals strictly controlled, for the duration of the pandemic. Australia sought to develop a Bluetooth-based contact tracing app that does not use the privacy-preserving Exposure Notification framework supported natively by Android and Apple smartphones, and while these efforts were not particularly effective, QR code-based contact tracing apps became ubiquitous in Australia's businesses. These apps, which are effectively required by State Governments, give government health departments the ability to reconstruct the presence and possible contacts of anyone carrying a mobile telephone handset capable of checking-in using a QR code at the time of visiting shops, bars, restaurants or similar venues, generally for 28 days after the visit. Furthermore, venues are required to provide alternative contact registration for anyone unable to use the app.

The nationwide vaccination program began with the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine being administered in Sydney on Sunday 21 February 2021. The slow pace of the country's vaccine rollout, which fell short of its initial targets, has been criticised.

The pandemic has impacted Australia's economy, causing its first recession in 30 years with the arts sector being particularly hard hit.

Vaccinations

The first public COVID-19 vaccination in Australia, with the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine, took place on 21 February 2021 in Sydney. An 84-year-old aged care resident was the first Australian to receive the vaccine following TGA approval. Prime Minister Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly also received vaccinations.

The first Australian to receive the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine was a doctor in regional South Australia on 5 March 2021 at Murray Bridge Hospital.

More than 2 million COVID-19 vaccinations had been administered in Australia by 28 April 2021, but this was 3 million short of original plans. By 6 June, over 5 million vaccinations had been administered. Approximately 4.45 million were first doses, nearly 570,000 were second doses.

National COVID-19 Commission Advisory Board

On 25 March, the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission was established by the Prime Minister as a strategic advisory body for the national response to the pandemic. .) The NCC's role includes providing advice on public-private partnerships and coordination to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

On 29 March, Prime Minister Morrison announced in a press conference following a National Cabinet meeting that public gatherings will be limited to two people, while also urging Australians over the age of 70, Australians with chronic illness over the age of 60 and Indigenous Australians over the age of 50 to stay home and self-isolate. Morrison also clarified that there were only four acceptable reasons for Australians to leave their houses: shopping for essentials; for medical or compassionate needs; exercise in compliance with the public gathering restriction of two people; and for work or education purposes

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