Melbourne locks down for 6th time as Covid-19 Delta variant spreads in Australia

Melbourne and the rest of Victoria state will enter a seven-day lockdown from 8 pm local time on Aug 5, 2021.
Melbourne and the rest of Victoria state will enter a seven-day lockdown from 8 pm local time on Aug 5, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

CANBERRA (BLOOMBERG) - About two-thirds of Australia's population is in lockdown as the Covid-19 Delta variant spreads across the nation, with the authorities in Melbourne enforcing stay-home orders for the sixth time since the pandemic began.

Melbourne and the rest of Victoria state will enter a seven-day lockdown from 8pm local time on Thursday (Aug 5), Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters.

The nation's second-largest city last year endured one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns, and emerged from its most recent one only on July 28.

Sydney, meanwhile, has issued stay-home orders until at least Aug 28.

"The advice to me from the experts (is that) if we were to wait even just a few days, there is every chance that instead of being locked down for a week, this gets away from us and we are potentially locked down until we all get vaccinated," Mr Andrews said.

The lockdowns show the limits of Australia's so-called "Covid-zero" strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus.

Its economy, particularly the domestic tourism and retail sectors, is increasingly being hit by the outbreaks.

The move by the Melbourne authorities comes on the same day that New South Wales state reported 262 new infections - a record number since the highly contagious variant leaked into Sydney's community in mid-June.

Five more people died, and four of them were not vaccinated, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in the city, which has been in lockdown for almost six weeks.

The outbreak's spread to other regions of New South Wales saw Ms Berejiklian on Thursday announcing that the Hunter Valley region - including Newcastle, a city of around 500,000 people - will be placed in a one-week lockdown.

"Every jurisdiction around the world is finding Delta challenging," Ms Berejiklian said. "We can try and eliminate it but we know the vaccine is critical to stopping the spread."

Australia's federal government said last week that the country would begin reopening and start to avoid snap lockdowns once 70 per cent of the entire adult population had been fully vaccinated.

Plans to reopen have been hampered by a tardy vaccine roll-out, with only enough doses to cover 25 per cent of the population administered.

Even as other developed economies like the United States and Britain open up, Australia is further isolating after imposing strict border restrictions when the pandemic began early last year.

The slow vaccine drive - which has placed renewed criticism on Prime Minister Scott Morrison ahead of elections due by May - has made the country particularly vulnerable to the Delta variant, which is increasingly leaking out of the quarantine system for international arrivals.

Queensland state recorded 16 new cases in the community on Thursday, and it was unclear whether Brisbane and other regions there would exit lockdown as planned on Sunday.

Eleven other infections were detected aboard a tanker carrying liquefied natural gas off the city of Gladstone, the authorities said.