SYDNEY (AFP, REUTERS) - Sydney authorities moved to lift curfews for coronavirus hot pots on Wednesday (Sept 15), as infection numbers stabilised and vaccination rates surged.
Almost three months after activity in Australia’s largest city was frozen by lockdown orders, state authorities announced easing restrictions for the worst-hit areas.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the 9pm to 5am curfew for virus hot spots would be lifted from Wednesday, in what Sydneysiders hope signals the beginning of the end of a long lockdown.
Infection rates appear to have plateaued at around 1,300 a day and 80 per cent of people in Australia’s most populous state have received at least one vaccine dose.
“We’ve seen a stabilisation in the last few days,” said Ms Berejiklian, while urging residents to continue to be vigilant and respect stay-at-home orders. “We don’t want to see that trend go the wrong way.”
Most Sydney residents can only leave home to buy food, exercise outdoors or seek medical treatment. Schools, bars, restaurants and offices have been closed since late June and residents are not allowed more than 5km from their homes.
Meanwhile, Victoria state reported a second consecutive daily fall in new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday as its first-dose vaccination rate neared the 70 per cent level where some curbs imposed to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant will be eased.
The authorities have promised to double the travel limit for five million residents in locked-down Melbourne, the state capital, to 10km and allow an extra hour of outdoor exercise when the state hits that inoculation target.
With around 68 per cent of the state's adults having received a first vaccine dose, it is likely to reach 70 per cent this week as new supplies are rolled out, about a week ahead of schedule.
Victoria reported 423 new locally acquired Covid-19 cases, down from 445 on Tuesday, and two new deaths.
Australia is struggling to quell a third wave of infections that has hit its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra, forcing nearly half the country's 25 million people into strict stay-at-home restrictions.
Sydney, the epicentre of the Delta outbreak, recorded its lowest case numbers in nearly two weeks on Tuesday, although the authorities said it was still unclear if infections had peaked.
Sydney and Melbourne have shifted their focus to rapid vaccinations to begin relaxing restrictions, moving away from an earlier Covid-19-zero strategy.
A four-stage national reopening plan unveiled by the federal government in July urges states and territories to live with the virus once vaccinations cover 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the adult population.
Around 43 per cent of adults have been fully vaccinated nationally.
Despite the recent Delta outbreaks, Australia's coronavirus numbers are relatively low, with about 77,000 cases and 1,104 deaths.