SYDNEY: The Australian city of Perth began a snap four-day COVID-19 lockdown at midnight on Tuesday (Jun 29), joining Sydney and Darwin as authorities struggle to contain fresh outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Just three positive cases have been diagnosed in Perth since the outbreak was detected, with the third case linked to the outbreak in Sydney.
More than two million people living in Perth and the neighbouring Peel region join Sydney and Darwin residents in lockdown.
“We know the risk COVID-19 presents and we know from around the world that the Delta strain is another new beast that we can’t take any chances with,” Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan said in a late-night press conference on Monday.
Concerns the Delta strain could touch off significant outbreaks have forced lockdowns in three state capitals, while most other cities have imposed some form of restrictions with more than 20 million Australians, or about 80 per cent of the population affected.
Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, is under a two-week lockdown until Jul 9 while the lockdown in the northern city of Darwin was extended for another 72 hours until Friday. Tough restrictions, including mandatory masks and fewer gatherings, are in place elsewhere.
Authorities late on Monday said people under 60 years would now be able to get the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine if approved by their doctor, who will be covered by a no-fault indemnity scheme, to ramp up a sluggish immunisation drive.
Vaccinations have also been made mandatory for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels.
“I’m absolutely comfortable about the rollout through the aged care sector,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday.
Lockdowns, swift contact tracing and strict social distancing rules have largely helped Australia keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 30,500 cases and 910 deaths, but its vaccine rollout has hit several roadblocks.
Officials two weeks ago limited the use of AstraZeneca vaccines only to people above 60 years due to blood clot concerns while recommended Pfizer shots to everyone under 60 in a major change to its immunisation drive.