New Delhi: Sydney’s rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak has been declared a “national emergency,” state leaders said Friday, as Australia’s largest city reported yet another record number of new infections.
The state of New South Wales pleaded for Canberra to send more vaccines and resources immediately after admitting that a month-long lockdown had failed to stop a Delta-variant outbreak.
Declaring the outbreak, a national emergency could pave the way for increased federal government involvement in containing the outbreak.
“We have an obligation on behalf of the nation to contain the virus,” said New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian as reported by news agency AFP.
“There is no doubt that the numbers are not going in the right direction.” He added.
Her state reported 136 new cases on Friday, a new high for this outbreak, which now has 1,782 cases.
Berejiklian said the government must “refocus” its glacial vaccine rollout because the virus is “spreading everywhere” and half of the country’s 25 million people are currently under lockdown.
Due to shortages of Pfizer vaccines and concerns about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, only 12 percent of Australians have been fully vaccinated.
She also announced that non-essential workers in certain areas of Sydney would be prohibited from leaving, tightening a lockdown that is almost certain to be formally extended next week.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison apologised for the country’s slow vaccine rollout, admitting that targets had not been met.
“I take responsibility for the vaccination programme. I also take responsibility for the challenges we’ve had,” he said. “Obviously, some things are within our control, some things that are not.” He added.
‘Ring of steel’
With the number of cases in Sydney increasing, Victoria state Premier Dan Andrews has called for a “ring of steel” to be erected around the city, prohibiting any travel in or out.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand announced that a travel bubble between the two countries would be suspended for at least eight weeks.
Australians will no longer be allowed to enter New Zealand without being quarantined, and return flights will be arranged for New Zealanders in Australia
“There are now multiple outbreaks, and in differing stages of containment, that have forced three states into lockdown,” Ardern said as reported by AFP.
“The health risk to New Zealanders from these cases is increasing… now is the time for a suspension to ensure New Zealanders aren’t put at undue risk from Covid-19 and to ensure we retain our hard-won gains.”
After more than a year of closed borders, quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia began in April, and tourism operators hailed it as a “saviour for businesses.”
However, as outbreaks in Australia erupted, New Zealand has repeatedly halted the bubble with individual states and territories.