Nearly two-thirds of Australia’s 25 million people were locked out on Thursday, as a dangerous delta eruption in the country triggered a new wave of sanctions.
The country’s two largest cities have suffered a double whammy in their efforts to maintain the status of “Coved Zero”, with authorities reporting a record number of new corona virus infections in Sydney and enforcing a sixth lockdown for virus-weary Melbourne.
In total, about 60% of the population – in cities from Brisbane to Belarus – are now being asked to live in homes.
To date, Australia has addressed the worst epidemics through border closures, lockdowns, mandatory travel restrictions, and aggressive testing and tracing strategies.
But those tools appear to be shattered in the face of a highly movable delta variant that is now threatening one of the world’s last sanctuaries from the Cowboys.
Since a Sydney driver was infected with Delta by an international flight crew in mid-June, 4,319 cases have been reported in the area and clusters have spread across the country.
After a six-week lockdown in Sydney, the number of new infections in the state of New South Wales rose to 262 on Thursday, the highest number since the onset of the epidemic.
Health officials say almost all new cases are in Sydney, but a handful of infections in other districts prompted state Prime Minister Gladys Bergeklian to extend home restrictions in neighboring areas.
Five positive tests in Newcastle – a coastal city of 320,000 people north of Sydney – have prompted authorities to close schools and keep residents at home for at least a week.
There was a similar story in Victoria, where Premier Daniel Andrews said he had “no choice” but to make a “very difficult announcement” and to lock down Melbourne and the rest of the state. Less than a week after the last lockdown ended.
“None of us are happy to be here, none of us,” he said.
“There is no alternative to lockdown,” he said.
“The alternative is to give up the race that drives us away, and our hospitals will be overwhelmed. Not hundreds of patients, but thousands.”
That possibility did not stop the nearly 2,000 protesters – who, unlike the city’s five million residents who had turned their attention to the lockdown – took to the streets.
Police responded in large numbers, made arrests and marched through Melbourne’s city center for about two hours to disperse the crowd, using pepper spray, chanting “No more lockdowns” Demanded dismissal.
Under the gun
Barely 20 Australians have been fully vaccinated, leading to severe shortages and reluctance to vaccinate.
Five people have died in Sydney in the last 24 hours in the 60s and 80s, none of whom have been fully vaccinated.
“I can’t stress how important it is for everyone of all ages to come forward and get vaccinated,” Bergeklian said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to step up vaccine deliveries by the end of the year, but has called for cities to be locked down to curb the spread.
“The virus does not spread by itself. Homeowners make sure the virus does not spread,” he said on Thursday.