The Delta variant has exposed the vulnerabilities of countries from South Korea to Australia and Vietnam.
Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, faces the prospect of an extended lockdown after Australian health officials reported another record daily rise in COVID-19 cases for the year, fuelled by the highly infectious Delta variant.
On Monday, the state of New South Wales reported 112 new locally transmitted cases, almost all of them in Sydney, which is entering its third week of lockdown.
Case numbers have been at record levels for at least three days.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said most of Monday’s cases were family members or close friends of already infected people, and urged with residents to comply with lockdown rules, which were tightened over the weekend.
Sydney residents are not to leave their homes unless they need to buy food, visit a doctor or take exercise.
“If you place your own self in jeopardy, you’re placing your whole household – relations, along with your closest good friends as well as affiliates – in jeopardy,” Berejiklian cautioned.
Total infections in the outbreak are nearing 700, less than a month since the first case was detected in mid-June.
Sixty-three people are in hospital, with 18 in intensive care, officials said, while a woman in her 90s died at the weekend, becoming the country’s first COVID-19 fatality this year.
Criticism over slow vaccination
Australia has successfully suppressed COVID-19 flare-ups through snap lockdowns, speedy contact tracing and tough social distancing rules. With a total of some 31,200 cases and 911 deaths since the pandemic began, the country has fared better than most other developed economies.
The Sydney outbreak has put Australia’s sluggish vaccine rollout under scrutiny. About 11 percent of Australia’s adult population of some 20.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.
Critics have pointed to confusing public advice as well as vaccine shortages.
Federal health guidance recommends the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccine be restricted to people aged over 60 because of blood clot concerns, while the imported Pfizer vaccine is currently limited to people between 40 and 60.
However, New South Wales authorities said vaccination centres and pharmacies would now be authorised to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over 40.
State officials have also recommended shortening the interval between the two doses for the AstraZeneca shot to six weeks from the recommended 12 weeks.