Australia PM says sorry for vaccine failures amid bleak outlook for Sydney lockdown

Australia’s prime minister has apologised for failures in the disastrous coronavirus vaccine rollout as cases in the states of New South Wales and Victoria grew further despite millions living in lockdown.

One day after notably refusing to apologise for a rollout that has fully vaccinated just 12% of the population since February, Scott Morrison said on Thursday: “I’m certainly sorry we haven’t been able to achieve the marks we had hoped for at the beginning of the year. Of course I am.”

However, as the prime minister spoke of a new daily record of 184,000 doses administered in one day, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian delivered the bleak message that the Delta outbreak shows a contagiousness “like nothing we’ve seen before”, and warned of low vaccination numbers and the limits of lockdown measures, now in their fourth week across the Sydney region.

“Our real key to freedom is having a high percentage of vaccination,” Berejiklian said. She had previously set an 80% vaccination target for life in the state to return to normal and void future lcokdowns. As of Thursday, about 3.2m vaccine doses have been administered in a state that will ultimately require about 16m doses to be fully vaccinated.

“The last thing we want is to be in a stage where we keep going in and out of harsh lockdown,” she said.

NSW set several new daily records on Thursday, with 124 new cases in the community, detected from a record 85,000 tests. As many as 87 of the new cases could have been infectious in the community. Among the new cases were outbreaks at two residential aged care facilities where staff were unvaccinated.

Victoria recorded 26 new local cases, the highest figure this year and taking the total number linked to the latest outbreak to 133. However, the vast majority were in isolation while infectious. The state is due to come out of lockdown next week. By then, people in Melbourne will have spent about six months in lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic.

South Australia, which began a week-long lockdown on Tuesday has a total of 14 cases, adding two in the past day.

In a stark admission, Berejiklian said the majority of the cases that were infectious in the community were “derived from critical activity” – either essential workers or people buying groceries and medicines – and said further restrictions were unlikely to reduce these types of transmissions.

The greater Sydney lockdown is due to end on 31 July, but she said that date was unlikely to include the freedom to gather with people from different areas or in indoor settings.

“It is spreading like we’ve never seen before,” the premier said. “We’re finding transmission in areas where people have to be where they’re at and that’s why it’s important to make sure that if you’ve been asked to have a test every three days, you do so. If you have the mildest of symptoms, do not come to work,” Berejiklian said.

“I think people are quite shocked as to how different and contagious the Delta strain is. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before,” she said.

Despite progressively tightening restrictions across Sydney, Berejiklian warned she expected case numbers to rise further. She has consistently said the lockdown can be eased only when the number of cases who are infectious while in the community falls as close to zero as possible

Echoing Morrison, state health minister Brad Hazzard raised particular concern about hesitancy towards the AstraZeneca vaccine, noting that at the vaccination hub at Sydney Olympic Park on Wednesday, 9,000 Pfizer doses were administered, compared with just 50 for AstraZeneca.

“I just think we need to take a step back and say … most of us can’t afford the luxury of sitting back and saying I don’t want to have the vaccine that has actually been taken by almost every country in the world and kept other countries safe,” Hazard said.

Australia has administered 6.1m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and five rare blood-clotting deaths were related to the first dose, federal health officials have said.

In addition, Berejiklian said contact tracers were now recommending that all positive cases send a text to everyone in their phone contact lists, irrespective of whether they’d had contact with them in recent days, to alert them “to say someone you know has tested positive to Covid”.

There are currently 118 Covid cases in hospitals in NSW, with 28 people in intensive care and 14 of them requiring ventilators.

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