SYDNEY • Melbourne will exit months of Covid-19 lockdown next week, helped by a faster-than-expected vaccine uptake, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday, and ahead of schedule even though daily infections hit a record the same day.
In the worst day of an outbreak of the Delta variant that began in early August, Victoria logged 2,297 new cases yesterday, up from 1,571 the day before and the highest for any Australian state or territory since the pandemic began.
Eleven people died, bringing the total toll in the latest outbreak to 125. But the surge comes as Victoria also nears the 70 per cent threshold for double-dose vaccination among eligible adults, the level at which the state's authorities have promised to end strict stay-home restrictions.
That target was originally expected to be met on Oct 26, and the vaccination level was 62 per cent as of yesterday.
"We will deliver the (reopening) road map... You get vaccinated and we will open up and I do what I say," said Mr Andrews during a media briefing in Melbourne.
Although most new cases were detected in the capital Melbourne, its night curfew will be lifted, and businesses can reopen with strict social distancing rules, according to the road map. More curbs will be relaxed when vaccination levels hit 80 per cent and 90 per cent.
Sydney continued a downward trend in new cases. Daily cases in New South Wales eased further to 406 yesterday, the majority in the capital Sydney, well down from the state's pandemic high of 1,599 hit in early September.
The city came out of a lockdown of more than 100 days earlier this week, and Sydney could enjoy more freedoms from Monday as the proportion of fully vaccinated people older than 16 is expected to top 80 per cent this weekend.
As Sydney and Melbourne aim to begin to live with Covid-19, some virus-free states flagged that they may delay their reopening plans even after higher vaccinations amid fears that outbreaks could overwhelm hospitals.
Higher inoculation coverage among the most vulnerable populations has helped Australia to keep its death rate from the Delta flare-up lower than last year's outbreaks.
Still, Delta has accounted for about 77 per cent of the country's 136,000 cases. Total deaths stand at 1,496 since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt yesterday said Australia's medical regulator has allowed Pfizer to submit an application to allow those aged five to 11 to be inoculated with its Covid-19 vaccine.