© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A woman exercises on empty stairs in front of the Anzac Memorial at an inversion pond as gyms are closed during a lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, July 22. 2021 Reuters / Lu
by Sonali Pol
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Australian state of New South Wales reported its second-highest daily increase of the year in localized coronavirus cases on Sunday amid fears of a new wave of infections after thousands of people joined a protest against the lockdown.
“Regarding yesterday’s protests, can I just say how disgusted I am. It broke my heart,” Gladys Berejiklian, prime minister of the country’s most populous state, told reporters.
“I hope it’s not a relapse, but it might be,” she said.
There have been 141 COVID-19 cases reported, down from 163 the day before. The outbreak, which began in June, has been driven by the highly contagious delta form of the virus, and has now infected 2,081 people in NSW. There are 43 people in intensive care, up from 37 the day before.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under criticism for the slow rollout of the vaccine, said more vaccine supplies would not ensure NSW emerges from lockdown, but what was needed was an effective and properly implemented lockdown.
“Let me be clear…there is no alternative to lockdown in NSW to get this under control. There is no other magic bullet that will do that,” Morrison told reporters at a televised news conference.
He described the anti-lockdown protests in Sydney as reckless and defeatist.
While Berejiklian and other state leaders have blamed Canberra for the slow rollout of the vaccine, critics said NSW has not implemented stay-at-home orders, resulting in a delta variant leaking to other states.
State health authorities said at least 38 of the new cases in NSW spent time in the community during infection. The number of such cases has remained stubbornly high even after four weeks of lockdown in Sydney, and it is now expected to extend beyond July 30.
The state reported two deaths overnight, one of which was a woman in her 30s who had not been there before.
Despite grappling with a rising number of infections, Australia has largely kept the epidemic under control with a total of around 32,600 cases and 918 deaths.
To help speed up vaccinations in Sydney, the government’s official advisor, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (ATAGI), has changed its advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine (NASDAQ:), urging anyone in the city under the age of 60 to strongly consider getting vaccinated with it.
ATAGI had previously advised against the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 60 years of age due to concerns about blood clots.
“In the context of the current risk of COVID-19 in NSW and the ongoing restrictions on Comirnaty ( Pfizer (NYSE :)) Vaccine supply, all adults in Greater Sydney should strongly consider the benefits of early protection with the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine rather than waiting for alternative vaccines.”
On Sunday, Morrison said the government had secured an additional 85 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but that it would only be delivered in 2022 and 2023.
“Having those booster shots beforehand means we can go into 2022 with confidence,” he said.
The Australian state of Victoria reported 11 locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Sunday, down from 12 the day before, raising hopes the state will end a strict lockdown imposed 10 days ago.
State Premier Daniel Andrews said it was too early to say whether restrictions would be eased on Tuesday, but: “At this point, though, things are going well.”
The state health department said all cases are linked to the current outbreak clusters and all have been in isolation for the duration of the infection.
South Australia reported three new cases on Sunday.