The good news that Victoria and South Australia will end their lockdowns on Wednesday was tempered by a surge in NSW cases and yet another blow for Australia’s vaccination rollout.
According to a report in The Guardian, 51 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, which were originally scheduled to arrive in the second half of this year, have now been hit with major delays and will arrive some time in 2022.
The Novavax vaccine, which the government had hoped would play a major role in our vaccination effort, will now form part of the booster strategy as the focus shifts to trying to secure more doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
On Tuesday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian reported that two people, both in their 80s, had died overnight as the state reported its highest-ever daily number of cases this year, with 172 people testing positive and at least 79 of those active in the community while infectious.
It was a stark contrast to Victoria, which reported another 10 cases on Tuesday, all linked to known outbreaks and all having been in quarantine throughout their entire infectious period.
So, while Victoria reported 32 cases over the past three days, all were in quarantine during their infectious period. And the number of exposure sites in the state has dropped to 365 with no new sites added since Saturday.
As a result of those figures, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews announced a cautious easing of restrictions in the state, with stay-at-home orders to be lifted on Wednesday, along with the 5km travel limit.
Restaurants and retailers will be allowed to reopen with strict density limits in place, mask mandates will remain in place and private gatherings in homes will still be banned.
Mr Andrews said that while not being allowed gatherings in the home would be challenging, it was still important while there was a risk of continued transmission.
“It is incredibly important that we regard the home as what it is, it is in many respects from a transmission of this virus point of view, the highest risk environment,” Mr Andrews said.
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall also confirmed that his state will come out of a week-long lockdown on Wednesday after there were no new cases of COVID reported in the state.
As is the case in Victoria, though, many of the South Australian restrictions on gatherings will remain in place.
In South Australia, masks will remain mandatory for high-risk indoor settings and will still be highly recommended for workplaces and schools.
“We are not going back to where we were,” Mr Marshall said. “We don’t want a relapse; we only want to do this once.”
The Victorian Premier also announced harder border restrictions with NSW, with the border bubble coming to an end and residents in the NSW local government areas of Wagga Wagga, Hay, Lockhart and Murrumbidgee needing to apply for a permit to visit Victoria.
Mr Andrews explained he was hardening the border as a result of the NSW government ignoring his plea at national cabinet to introduce a ring of steel around Sydney.
“I take no pleasure in having to essentially lock out these four communities from Victoria,” Mr Andrews said. “But there’s a refusal to lock people in Sydney into Sydney, so I have no choice but to make these changes.
“Keeping the Sydney problem in Sydney and not having it leach out into regional NSW and in Victoria makes sense to me. That’s not a decision that has been made and it is not for me to make that decision, but we will not hesitate to do what has to be done to keep our state safe.”
The Victorian Premier also said that he expected lockdowns to continue to be enforced until the vaccination program got up to speed.
“Until a significant majority have had two shots of vaccine, this is with us,” Mr Andrews said.
“Some of these restrictions are going to be with us and the risk of further lockdowns will be with us until we get the vast majority of Victorians and Australians through the vaccination program.
“If you are over 60 and you haven’t had your AstraZeneca jab yet, go and get that. If your doctor says it is safe, go and get that. Nothing is more important than accessing vaccines right now.”
The worsening outbreak in NSW is at least leading to more people taking vaccination seriously, with pharmacists reporting being ‘overwhelmed’ by interest in the AstraZeneca vaccine.
According to the Australian Financial Review, there has been a surge in interest in the vaccine in pharmacies across western Sydney of the first day that pharmacists started to deliver the vaccine.
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