Victoria state has Thursday reported 2,297 new local COVID-19 cases — the highest number of daily infections recorded by any Australian state or territory since the pandemic began. But as infections surge, authorities hope to lift a lockdown in Melbourne within days when vaccination rates reach 70%.
A 107-day lockdown in Sydney, the New South Wales state capital, was lifted on Monday.
Neighboring Victoria state has record COVID-19 case numbers, however, but epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said she believes vaccinations will soon bring the outbreak under control.
“While we might see cases go up as we have those freedoms start to come into effect this week in New South Wales, Victoria, probably, in a week or two, we are now seeing that we can do that safely,” she said. “That’s everything.”
Health authorities in Victoria do not think case numbers have peaked, but they say vaccination rates are rapidly increasing. They say they are on track to soon cancel stay-at-home orders in the state capital, Melbourne.
A lockdown in the national capital, Canberra, will end later on Thursday.
Lockdowns in Australia are being lifted as inoculation rates hit 70%, and further restrictions on domestic and international travel and the size of gatherings will end when they reach 80%. For now, though, the freedoms apply only to the fully vaccinated.
Nationally, about 69% of Australians have received two vaccine doses.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Pfizer drug could soon be approved for Australian children ages 5-11.
“It offers additional support and protection for parents and families,” he said. “It is coming at an earlier time than we had previously expected, so I am very, very pleased about that.”
Australia’s Northern Territory has announced some of the world’s toughest vaccine mandates. Shop workers, hairdressers and other workers must be inoculated by Christmas Eve or face dismissal.
The Northern Territory has a population of about 250,000 people. It has recorded about 200 coronavirus cases and zero deaths since the pandemic began but authorities believe it is only a matter of time before more infections are detected as Australia gradually reopens.
The territory’s chief minister, Michael Gunner, said the tough vaccine measures are needed.
“If you work in retail or in a supermarket, you need to get the jab,” he said. “If you are behind the counter at the bank, if you are a receptionist or positions like that, you need to get the jab. If you are a barber, a hairdresser, a beauty therapist, you need to get the jab. All these workers and many, many more directly interact with members of the public. That means you are frontline workers in our economy. That means you must be vaccinated.”
Australia has recorded 131,380 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began; 1,461 people have died.