Covid-19 cases rise in Australia's Victoria as lockdown extension looms

People queue for Covid-19 vaccines at a vaccination centre in Melbourne on Aug 31, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Australia's Victoria state saw a jump in new locally acquired cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday (Sept 1) as the government prepared to extend a hard lockdown, while neighbouring New South Wales (NSW) brought forward its vaccination target date.

Residents in Victoria, where a lockdown is due to end on Thursday (Sept 2), are waiting to learn for how long the tough restrictions will be extended, after the state reported 120 new local cases, up from 76 a day earlier.

Victoria entered into a lockdown soon after the first case was detected in early August but infections have risen steadily over the past four weeks.

State Premier Daniel Andrews has flagged the lockdown will remain but promised to ease some curbs if cases remained low and vaccination rates rose.

The state set a 70 per cent first-dose vaccination rate target to begin easing some of the world's toughest Covid-related restrictions.

Once that threshold is hit, rules limiting residents to an area within five kilometers of their homes will be extended to 10 and three hours of daily outdoor exercise will be permitted - up from the current limit of just two, Andrews told reporters on Wednesday, laying out a roadmap to reopening the state.

Playgrounds will reopen late on Thursday, he said.

Andrews said the state could reach the inoculation target around Sept 23. Regional areas of the state could exit lockdown as early as next week, he added.

Still, he didn't specify a date when stay-at-home orders would be removed for metropolitan Melbourne. "I much prefer to be here announce that we're opening up," Andrews said.

Regarding a full lifting of the lockdown, he added that there would "be a time for that, but it simply can't be before" at least
70 per cent of people are fully vaccinated.

So far nearly 35 per cent of people in Victoria aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated, while 56 per cent have had one dose.

In New South Wales state, a total of 1,116 new cases were detected, down from 1,164 a day earlier.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state could reach a 70 per cent vaccination rate by the middle of next month from the initial target of the end of October, as the outbreaks have spurred a surge in inoculation.

"If you are a business, start dusting off your Covid safety plan. Make sure your employees are vaccinated so we can get back to life at 70 per cent double-dose vaccination," Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital.

So far 37 per cent of people in the state above 16 years of age are fully vaccinated.

NSW reported four new deaths taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 100.

Australia is trying to get a handle on the third wave of infections that has locked down more than half of its 25 million population.

Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and capital Canberra are in weeks-long strict stay-at-home orders.

Despite the recent flare-ups, it has managed to keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just over 55,000 cases and 1,012 deaths.

In a bid to boost supply - one of the major constraints on the vaccine roll-out - Australia entered into a vaccine swop agreement with Singapore on Tuesday for 500,000 Pfizer doses, which will arrive soon. The government has also bought about one million emergency shots from Poland.

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