Australia purchases Pfizer vaccines from Poland as Covid-19 infections spike

A student receives a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine dose at a mass vaccination hub at Sydney Olympic Park, on Aug 9, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia has purchased about one million doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine from Poland to add to its inoculation efforts in Sydney, which on Saturday entered a snap lockdown amid record new infections.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday (Aug 15) the extra vaccines would start arriving immediately and over half will be directed to 20- to 39-year-olds in New South Wales, as the state reported its second largest increase in locally transmitted infections.

Mr Morrison has been under pressure for a sluggish vaccine rollout, with only about 24 per cent of Australians above 16 fully vaccinated as supplies from Pfizer, seen as the preferred inoculation for younger people, have remained in short stock.

"We've been seeing those case numbers rise in Sydney and New South Wales each day and that is terribly concerning," Mr Morrison said at a news conference in Canberra.

"We've got to get those numbers coming down... You needed more vaccines from us. More vaccines are on their way. They'll be there this week, and so I need Sydneysiders to stay home so we can beat this thing."

New South Wales, the most populous state, reported 415 new locally acquired cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, the second largest increase after the previous day's record 466.

Of the new doses, 530,000 will be prioritised for express delivery over the coming week to 12 greater Sydney local government areas after they arrive in Australia on Sunday night, Mr Morrison said.

The remaining 470,340 will be distributed on a per capita basis to other states and territories to fast-track inoculations of the younger age-group.

Concerned about growing infections in rural areas as recent sewage tests detected the virus in several regional towns, officials on Saturday tightened restrictions and ordered a snap seven-day lockdown across the state.

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With infections spiking, it's looking increasingly unlikely that Sydney will come out of its nine-week lockdown on Aug 28 as planned.

"Western New South Wales remains a concern, especially in relation to our vulnerable indigenous communities and getting a vaccine to them is critical at this point in time," state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

On Sunday, officials said four more people had died, taking the number of deaths in the latest outbreak in the state to 46.

Of the new positive cases, at least 66 are people who spent time in the community while infectious, Ms Berejiklian said.

In the neighbouring state of Victoria, 25 new locally acquired cases of the virus were reported, up from 21 a day earlier, while Melbourne, the state capital, remained in the second week of an extended lockdown.

In Australia's capital city, Canberra, which entered a one-week lockdown on Thursday, two new Covid-19 infections were reported.

Federal and state governments have committed to ending lockdowns when 70 per cent of the country's near 26 million population is vaccinated.

Poland, which has fully vaccinated over a third of its 38 million population, said in a statement that the decision to offer vaccines to Australia was taken in the light of the current outbreak of the Delta variant.

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