Australia records one of its youngest Covid-19 deaths amid Sydney outbreak

Of about 17 deaths from Covid-19 since the flare-up began in June, nearly a third have been people at home.
Of about 17 deaths from Covid-19 since the flare-up began in June, nearly a third have been people at home.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - An Australian man in his 20s died at home of Covid-19 in Sydney, the authorities said on Wednesday (Aug 4), one of the country's youngest coronavirus deaths.

The man, who was unvaccinated, was 13 days into home isolation after testing positive when his health deteriorated rapidly, the authorities said, adding that he lived with one person who had been hospitalised with the virus.

The man was ineligible for a Pfizer vaccine, as Australia limits that type for people over 40 amid tight supplies, while Canberra has only recently told people to take the AstraZeneca vaccine as cases swell, having previously limited it to people over 60.

The death highlighted the risk from the virus and the importance of getting vaccinated, said health leaders, who have set a target of having half of Sydney's population inoculated before lifting the city's lockdown by a target date of Aug 28.

"It demonstrates again how this disease is lethal, how it affects people of all ages," said Ms Gladys Berejiklian, premier of New South Wales (NSW) state, of which Sydney is the capital.

Last year, the neighbouring state of Victoria said an unnamed man also in his 20s had died from Covid-19, though a coroner is still investigating the exact cause of death.

It was unclear if the Sydney man had the Delta coronavirus variant but most of the latest cases in New South Wales have been that type. Early data are showing Delta is more contagious and likely causes more severe effects than earlier coronavirus variants, though other experts cautioned more findings are needed.

The man's identity and how he caught the virus were not disclosed. He lived in south-west Sydney, the epicentre of an outbreak related to the Delta virus strain that has ravaged the country's most populous city for weeks.

The young man was one of two Covid-19 deaths reported in NSW in the past 24 hours. “I’m not going to rule out case numbers won’t get worse, I actually think they will get worse,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. "If you look at the number of people infectious in the community, it indicates that perhaps we haven’t reached our peak.”

Of about 17 deaths from the virus since the flare-up began in June, nearly a third have been people at home, according to the government. The man's death was referred for a formal inquest, the authorities said.

A woman in her 80s also died in a hospital in the past day, taking the national total to 927 since the start of the pandemic.

On Wednesday, Sydney reported 233 new cases, up from 199 a day earlier. Total infections in the state's worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic topped 4,000 since the first one was detected on June 16.

In a bid to arrest a spike in cases, the authorities have taken aggressive countermeasures, including sealing off high-risk suburbs and asking military to help police enforce lockdown rules.

Ms Berejiklian is under intense pressure to ease the movement restrictions that threaten to drive Australia into its second recession in as many years. However, she has said at least 50 per cent of the state’s population would need to be vaccinated for the curbs to ease at the end of August.

Ms Berejiklian has said the state should hit a target of six million shots by the end of the month - at least one dose to all of its adult population.

Neighbouring Queensland reported 16 locally acquired cases, the same as the day earlier, prompting the authorities to declare it the state's worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic and warn that a lockdown in state capital Brisbane might be extended beyond Sunday.

“If we don’t do something really, really, really special in Queensland, we’ll be extending the lockdown,” Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young told reporters in Brisbane.

"Every time someone leaves their home, they increase the risk that this lockdown may need to go on longer... now is not the time to buy outdoor furniture, there will be time before summer to get sun lounges," Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.

The states of Victoria and Western Australia also reported one new Covid-19 infection each.

The fast-moving Delta strain has alarmed the authorities while a slow vaccine roll-out frustrated residents. Only about 20 per cent of people older than 16 have been fully vaccinated.

Still, many remain wary of taking the AstraZeneca vaccine, the most plentiful of two vaccines approved in the country, because of a rare blood clotting issue.

Additionally, government modelling released on Tuesday showed at least 70 per cent of the state’s population would need to be inoculated to slow the spread.

Authorities have warned people not to wait for an increase in Pfizer supplies expected next month as case numbers prove difficult to curtail and sewage tests are indicating the coronavirus may have spread north.