Australia reports record daily Covid-19 cases, braces for worse

People queue at a Covid-19 vaccination centre in Melbourne on Sept 1, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Australia, struggling to quell its worst wave of Covid-19, reported 1,756 infections on Saturday (Sept 4), another record high, and officials warned that worse is yet to come, urging people to get vaccinated.

Most of the cases were again in New South Wales, which has been fighting an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant since mid-June. The state reported 1,533 new cases and four further deaths.

Neighbouring Victoria reported 190 cases, the Australian Capital Territory 32, and Queensland one. Recent daily infections are running about double the levels of Australia's previous worst wave of the pandemic a year ago.

Believing this outbreak cannot be eliminated - a successful strategy used by states and territories in earlier waves - New South Wales and Victoria authorities have focused on speeding inoculations to make the cases less virulent.

Although infections in Australia's second-most populous state Victoria, in its sixth lockdown, dropped slightly from Friday's 208, health authorities said the outbreak has not peaked.

"The overall trend is a slow and steady increase. That's why vaccination is so critical, as is following the rules," Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told a press conference.

Of the new infections, 103 were linked to existing outbreaks, the health department said on its Twitter account.

New South Wales, the most populous state and home to Sydney, expects more than 1,000 new cases a day for at least two more weeks, with hospital admissions likely to peak in October. On Saturday, health officials said 137 of the 173 people in intensive care in hospitals were not vaccinated.

Victoria, NSW and the Australian Capital Territory, together home to nearly 60 per cent of Australia's 25-million population, have been under strict lockdown for weeks.

That is expected to continue until 70 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated. At the current pace, Australia may reach that threshold in late October or early November.

So far, only about a third of those aged 16 and over have been vaccinated in Australia, although the inoculation pace has picked up considerably as of late, with the federal government racing to secure more Pfizer shots.

A total of just above 58,200 cases and 1,032 deaths have been recorded in Australia since the pandemic began, far lower than many comparable countries.

The Delta outbreak, however, has cast doubt on whether it is wise to pursue elimination strategies - used by states and territories successfully in previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are not going to be driving this down to zero," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said on Friday.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.