Seventh city locks down amid vaccine chaos

SYDNEY – Seven Australian cities are now in lockdown as authorities scramble to prevent the spread of the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant.

Officials reported a slight case rise on Wednesday, to more than 200 cases. Nearly half the population – more than 12 million people – are under stay-at-home orders in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Townsville and the Gold Coast.

On Wednesday, the outback town of Alice Springs also entered a snap lockdown after cases emerged in South Australia. Authorities fear the virus could now spread to nearby Aboriginal communities which are already vulnerable. Across the country on Wednesday, state leaders said they were facing a “pressure cooker situation” as new cases emerged.

Many leaders have urged faster vaccinations as just 5% of the population is fully vaccinated.

But messaging around the country’s main vaccine, the AstraZeneca jab, has been contradictory.

day, you’d be forgiven for being confused about vaccinations. There’s been the slow rollout, the lack of supply, and vaccine hesitancy. Now, add mixed messaging from the leadership to this list and you’ve got a perfect storm. In a big U-turn on Monday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that anyone under 40 who wants the AstraZeneca vaccine could have it after talking to their GP.

That message was quickly rejected by the Australian Medical Association’s president, who said it took him by surprise and went against expert advice. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommends AstraZeneca for over 60s.

State premiers then also accused the PM of wrong guidance, while criticising the shortage of the Pfizer alternative.

Delta has breached Australia’s defences faster than anticipated. It’s underlined how slow and at times shambolic the vaccine rollout has been.

Australia remains in an enviable position globally, with an overall low number of Covid-19 cases and deaths.

But the next few weeks will be crucial – with the country’s Covid success now hanging in the balance.

The Delta variant has been found in five of eight states and territories, just a fortnight after it emerged in Sydney.

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