Half of Australia Locked Down as Delta Variant Fuels Outbreaks

Thirteen million people in Australia — about half the country’s population — woke up on Wednesday under some form of lockdown as the country struggles to contain outbreaks of the Delta variant across three states.

On Tuesday, the state of South Australia was placed under a seven-day lockdown after recording five coronavirus cases. The state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, extended its lockdown for another week as its case total surpassed 100.

New infections show no sign of slowing in the largest city, Sydney, which is now in its fourth week of lockdown and has recorded over 1,000 cases. Sydney reported 110 new local cases on Wednesday, the third highest daily total since this outbreak began.

Although the case numbers are relatively small, Australia has used a strategy of swift local lockdowns to keep the virus under control since last year. But because of the high transmissibility of the Delta variant, and Australia’s slow vaccination campaign, infectious disease experts are concerned that it might be impossible to completely stamp out these outbreaks.

“With the vaccination rates the way they are, we won’t be able to live freely and safely unless we’re able to quash this current outbreak,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, said on Wednesday.

About 29 percent of Australia’s population has received at least one vaccine dose and 11 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that the country had administered a million doses in the past seven days, the first time it had reached that weekly mark. If that rate continues, he added, all Australians who wanted a vaccine would be able to get one by the end of the year.

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