Nearly half a million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine have arrived in Australia overnight, officials have said, the first batch of a swap deal with Britain that Australia is using to speed up its inoculation programme as it battles a surge in cases that has put more than half its 25 million population in lockdown.
The Reuters news agency reported news of the vaccines’ arrival on Monday.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
People in Sydney and Melbourne, the country’s two biggest cities, as well as in the capital of Canberra are under strict stay-home restrictions that the government has said will be gradually relaxed once between 70 percent of people over the age of 16 have been vaccinated.
Australia is under pressure to ramp up its vaccination programme and last week agreed deals with the United Kingdom and Singapore for a total of about 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, double this month’s supply.
“There will be another set of flights in a couple of days, but we’ll pretty much be getting a million of the four million every week over the next four weeks,” Lieutenant General John Frewen, head of the vaccination task force, told broadcaster ABC.
Frewen said one million doses of Moderna will also reach Australia in “a week or so”, expanding a vaccine rollout, which also includes AstraZeneca.
Just over 38 percent of Australia’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, with the country expected to reach 70 percent by early November based on current rates.
New South Wales, the epicentre of the latest outbreak reported 1,281 new cases on Monday and five deaths. Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, reported 246 new cases on Monday, its biggest daily rise of the year.
Despite the recent outbreaks, Australia’s coronavirus numbers have remained relatively low compared with many countries around the world at 61,600 cases and 1,039 deaths.
Under the vaccine swap deals, Australia will return equivalent numbers of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Britain and Singapore later this year.