Australia has reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases for the year on Saturday with the highly infectious Delta variant continuing to spread through the country’s most populous states of New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and Queensland.
With about 15 million people in the three states, or 60 percent of Australia’s population, under a strict lockdown, the country also reported five coronavirus-related deaths, one of the highest tolls this year.
NSW reported 319 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, the most since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, with Sydney and neighbouring regional centres spanning 200km (120 miles) of coastline under a stay-at-home order for six weeks already.
There are 345 people in hospital in NSW, with 56 in intensive care and 23 on ventilators, state authorities said.
With the virus continuing to spread through Sydney’s sprawling suburbs, state Health Minister Brad Hazzard expressed frustration that people appeared to be ignoring restrictions and urged residents to stay at home.
“That is the biggest thing you can do for all of us and for yourself, to make sure that we beat this Delta virus that is wreaking havoc across the world,” Hazzard told media.
Neighbouring Victoria saw the highest daily jump in cases this year, with 29 new infections, as the state remains under a snap seven-day lockdown imposed earlier this week, the state’s sixth since the start of the pandemic.
Victoria Premier Dan Andrews urged people to follow the public health rules that allow residents to leave their house only for essential work, shopping, care, vaccination or two hours of outdoor exercise.
“This Delta variant spreads so fast,” Andrews said.
“We don’t have enough of people vaccinated, we will finish up with younger people in the hospital, otherwise fit and healthy people. Our system will be overrun if we don’t bring this under control.”
Contact tracers were still working to track down the source of its outbreaks, Andrews said.
“This is very, very significant to see this many cases … we don’t know where those two outbreaks started.”
Meanwhile, Queensland recorded 13 new cases, with all but one isolating while infectious, bringing hopes that the eight-day lockdown in parts of the state will be lifted as planned on Sunday afternoon.
With just over 36,000 COVID-19 cases and 937 deaths, Australia has avoided the high caseloads of other developed countries, but its vaccination figures are among the lowest, with only 20 percent of people aged over 16 fully vaccinated.
Now the effectiveness of the government’s “COVID zero” policy has come under scrutiny as the lockdowns struggle to stamp out the highly infectious Delta variant.