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Updates on Australia’s Travel Policy Amid the COVID-19’s Delta Variant

23 August 2021

Just a few months ago, Australia’s virtually Covid-free status made it the envy of the world. Then the delta variant flipped the script. After about half a year of relatively normal daily life, Australia’s biggest city is now in the third week of a strict lockdown that on Wednesday was extended until at least July 30. Sydney’s normally bustling central business district is all but deserted, schools are closed and households are forbidden from mixing for fear of further spread among the 6 million population.

Even as the U.S. and U.K. reopen, Australia seems to be stuck in place. And it’s all for a daily caseload a third the size of New York’s and less than 3% of what London is currently encountering. About 900 cases have been recorded in Sydney since an un-vaccinated chauffeur was infected while transporting airline crew last month. New South Wales state recorded 65 new infections on Thursday, with a higher number expected on July 20.

Arguably the most devoted adherent of the “Covid Zero” strategy followed by a few Asia-Pacific economies, Australia has limited the pandemic’s health impacts with strict quarantines, snap lockdowns and a closed-border policy that even bans citizens from leaving. But a slow vaccine rollout has left the country exposed to outbreaks as newer, more virulent strains slip through border curbs.

Like other Covid Zero economies from Singapore to Taiwan, Australia is finding its elimination strategy increasingly difficult to maintain. And the government’s early successes against Covid meant it was slower than other nations in securing and rolling out what looks to be the only real, long-term solution to the pandemic: vaccinations.

Australia has administered enough doses for 18% of its population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, compared with 52% in the U.S. and 61% in the U.K. The AstraZeneca inoculation has comprised the bulk of the nation’s rollout so far — it is one of two options available to Australians — but mixed messaging over giving the jab to under-40s has caused some vaccine hesitancy, a problem faced by other Covid Zero economies too.

Sydney’s lockdown is likely to drag on for weeks and could trigger an economic contraction for the country in the short term, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia said Wednesday. Australians outside of Sydney are nervous they will be next: Last year the city of Melbourne spent three months in one of the world’s longest and harshest lockdowns, which successfully stamped out infections but at significant economic cost.

The state of Victoria, which includes Melbourne, confirmed 10 new locally acquired cases on Thursday. The escalation of the outbreak has led to additional restrictions including stricter mask rules, while Western Australia state has reintroduced a hard border to keep out residents of the city.

While opening up will “scare some people,” the  government will need to outline the advantages of “not having to worry about having lockdowns of cities, all of the social-distancing measures and, of course, quarantine.”

SOURCE:

Scott, J. (2021, July 15). How Vaccine Chaos Left a Covid-Zero Haven Locked Down and Exposed. Retrieved August 05, 2021, from Bloomberg: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-07-14/australia-s-covid-zero-strategy-reaches-limit-with-no-plan-b

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