‘Beginning of the end’: Australia could lose battle with Delta variant

·4-min read

This week more than 12 million Asutralians were forced into lockdown, largely due to a highly-contagious variant of coronavirus.

While Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have emerged from lockdown, NSW is struggling to contain the Delta strain, recording 35 new cases on Saturday.

Nearly two thirds of the new cases were in isolation for their entire infectious period, but NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard warned Sydneysiders the state is "deep in a war with this virus."

The total number of cases associated with the outbreak sits at 261.

Speaking to the New York Times, the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University in Melbourne, Catherine Bennett, said containing Covid outbreaks in Australia will only get harder.

ScoMo wearing a mask and the Sydney skyline.
The Delta variant could spell disaster for Australia. Source: Getty

“This is the beginning of the end of Covid zero,” she said, referencing the country's approach since the pandemic began.

“We may be able to get it under control this time, but it’s just going to be harder and harder.”

Australia has been relatively successful in containing clusters throughout the pandemic, registering fewer than 31,000 cases in a population of 26 million and 910 deaths total.

However, the higher infection rate of the Delta variant has exposed the vulnerability of the population in which, according to government data, only 8 per cent are fully vaccinated.

The variant was first identified in India but has now been detected in more than 90 countries and is exploiting low global vaccination rates and a rush to ease pandemic restrictions.

Covid vaccines appear to offer strong protection against the variant, but Delta is positioned to take full advantage of a lack of blanket coverage.

The World Health Organisation warned this week that the trifecta of easier-to-spread strains, insufficiently immunised populations and a drop in mask use and other public health measures before the virus is better contained will “delay the end of the pandemic.”

Stock image of Covid vaccination.
Only about 8 per cent of Australians are vaccinated against Covid-19. Source: Getty Images

PM hopeful about new Covid vaccine target

Prime Minister Scott Morrison Morrison announced earlier this week that all Australians will be able to get the vaccine by the end of the year.

The government has proposed fewer restrictions for vaccinated people, such as allowing them to quarantine at home for a week after traveling overseas instead of two weeks in a hotel for the unvaccinated.

“A lot of people say: ‘Well, why should I get vaccinated?’ They go: ‘There’s not much Covid around in Australia. I’ve got more chance of, I don’t know, getting run over by a car than catching Covid',” Morrison said.

“We’re prisoners of our own success in this. If you get vaccinated, you get to change how we live as a country. You get to change how you live in Australia. And I think this is a very powerful message,” he added.

Australia's vaccine rollout has been slammed, with former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull calling it "a phenomenal failure".

“Governments make a lot of mistakes, as we all do, of course, but this was something that was very doable,” he told the ABC.

The former PM said the recent lockdowns were “a consequence of failure the to get the vaccination done”.

“So the important thing is to go forward, but there is also no point kidding ourselves that this hasn't been a phenomenal failure in public administration,” he said.

“I don't see how else you can describe it.”

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AMA President optimistic about vaccine rollout

On Friday, Australia's leaders held a National Cabinet meeting outlines a four-phase plan of Australia's Covid-19 response.

Part of the phase one is getting people vaccinated.

"Implement the national vaccination plan to offer every Australian an opportunity to be vaccinated with the necessary doses of the relevant vaccine as soon as possible," the plan says.

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AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid was optimistic about the plan, telling Weekend Today it was a "great thing" to have leaders "coming together".

He said it was necessary for modelling to determine what percentage of the population is vaccinated before Australians can expect life to return to something normal.

Despite Australia's lagging vaccine rollout, Dr Khorshid was also optimistic Australian's could be vaccinated by the end of the year, if they want to be.

"It is very realistic to have everyone who wants to be fully vaccinated by the end of the year," he said.

With AAP and the Associated Press.

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