SYDNEY – Record numbers of COVID-19 vaccinations have been completed in Australia as a snap seven-day lockdown continues in the nation’s second most-populous state.
Seven million people in Victoria are subject to strict stay-at-home orders after a growing cluster of infections was detected in recent days. Australia has managed to mostly contain the coronavirus through lockdowns, the closure of its international borders and strict quarantine measures for returning citizens, but the national vaccination program has been beset by supply issues and hesitancy among many Australians.
There are estimated to be 100 active coronavirus cases in Australia, according to the Health Department. About half are in Victoria, which is under a seven-day lockdown. It is the state’s fourth shutdown since the pandemic began.
The number of infections in Australia is small compared to other countries, including Japan, Brazil and the United States.
However, community transmission of the virus has been rare in recent months and the outbreak in Victoria is significant.
There has been complacency in the community and mounting hesitancy about vaccines and possible side effects, which have delayed the national inoculation plan.
Health authorities in Victoria, though, have said the lockdown has sent residents flocking to injection centers across the country in record numbers.
However, some experts believe that it might be too late to prevent another wave of infections in Australia’s second most populous state.
“We have been here before,” said Dr. Michelle Ananda-Rajah, an infectious diseases expert at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital. “I think, though, that the stakes are higher this time because we have all the factors for what is essentially a perfect storm. We have a largely unvaccinated population; we have winter approaching, and we have an unforgiving variant on the loose at the moment. You know, Victoria is primed at the moment for a third wave, and we need to do everything possible to prevent that from happening.”
Melbourne, the Victoria state capital, endured Australia’s longest COVID-19 lockdown last year. Once again, the nation’s second-biggest city finds itself under tight restrictions.
Masks are now mandatory. Places of worship and schools are closed. Victorians can only leave home for essential work, shopping, exercise, caregiving or to get a coronavirus vaccine.
Businesses are facing heavy losses.
A man infected with a highly contagious COVID-19 variant who stayed at a quarantine hotel for returning travelers is thought to be the source of the outbreak.
Australia has recorded more than 30,000 coronavirus cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began, according to government statistics.