Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday the country must begin easing strict COVID-19 restrictions once vaccination rates rise, with more than half of all Australians having to endure weeks-long lockdowns to curb Delta outbreaks.
Some states have indicated they may not adhere to a national plan that includes easing border controls, concerned about a rise in cases in the south east of the country, with Sydney breaking new one-day records for infections.
“(Lockdowns) cannot go on forever. This is not a sustainable way to live in this country,” Morrison said at a televised conference in Canberra.
“Because if not at 70% and 80%, then when? When? We have to take that step and we have to prepare to take that step and we have to prepare the country to take that step.”
The federal government last month unveiled a four-step plan to ease restrictions once 70% of 25 million people over the age of 16 have been vaccinated, with strict lockdowns “unlikely”.
When vaccination rates reach 80%, only “highly targeted lockdowns” would be needed and vaccinated Australians would be free to travel between states.
However, states in Western Australia and Queensland have expressed concern that the plan was approved ahead of a major outbreak in New South Wales (NSW), where the daily number of cases has surpassed 800 in the past three days.
On Monday, NSW reported 818 cases, the most in Sydney, slightly less than the record of 830 a day earlier.
Australia managed the pandemic better than many other developed countries, but a slow vaccine rollout has thrown Sydney and Melbourne, the largest cities and capital Canberra, into lockdowns to fight outbreaks of the Delta variant.
Nationally, 30% of people over 16 have been fully vaccinated, while 52% have had at least one dose. Vaccinations are progressing at a record pace, but the target of 80% fully vaccinated will not be reached at the current pace until December.
NSW Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday that state residents must learn to live with the virus, and urged people to get vaccinated quickly.
“Once you hit 80% double dose, every state will have to live with COVID. You can’t keep Delta out forever,” she said.
Australia has reported a total of just over 44,600 cases. There have been 984 deaths, although the death rate has fallen since last year.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)