Australia struggled to contain several COVID-19 groups around the country on Monday in what some experts have described as the nation’s most dangerous stage since the pandemic since early days.
Sydney to the east and Darwin to the north were closed on Monday. Perth in the west wore mandatory masks for three days and warned of a blockage that could follow after a resident tested positive after visiting Sydney more than a week ago.
Brisbane and Canberra have or will soon become required to wear masks. South Australia announced new state restrictions from Tuesday.
Australia has had relative success in containing clusters throughout the pandemic, recording less than 31,000 cases since the pandemic began. But the new clusters have highlighted the nation’s slow vaccination process with only 5% of the population fully vaccinated.
Most of the new cases stem from a Sydney limousine driver who tested positive on June 16 for the delta variant, which is thought to be more contagious. He was not vaccinated, had not worn a mask and is suspected of having been infected while transporting foreign aircrew from Sydney airport.
The state of New South Wales reported 18 new cases on Monday in the last 24-hour period. The count was less than 30 cases recorded on Sunday and 29 on Saturday.
Authorities have warned that a two-week Sydney lockdown that began on Friday will not reduce infection rates for another five days.
“We need to be prepared for the numbers to roll around and we also need to be prepared for the numbers to grow considerably,” said New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian.
Health policy adviser Bill Bowtell, who was the architect of Australia’s first AIDS response in the 1980s, said the government needed to consider accelerating vaccinations by shortening the gap between them. AstraZeneca shots from 12 to 8 weeks.
“We really have the most serious crisis in the COVID pandemic since the first days of February-March last year,” Bowtell said.
The crisis has also highlighted the dangers posed by the hotel’s quarantine, which is the source of most cases of community-acquired virus spread in Australia.
A miner is suspected of being infected by the delta variant while in quarantine in Brisbane in the state of Queensland before flying to a gold mine in the Northern Territory.
The miner infected at least six people at the mine. One of the infected miners had traveled from home to Queensland and another to New South Wales.
Authorities have been trying to find 900 mine workers across the country who could have been infected by the initial case.
The Northern Territory capital, Darwin, and nearby Palmerston closed on Sunday for 48 hours after an infected miner returned home to Palmerston.
The blockade will be extended on Friday after another miner was positive after returning home to Darwin on Friday, officials said Monday. The Northern Territory has never experienced COVID-19 spreading in the community.
Queensland on Monday reported three new cases, including the miner. He is one of 170 potentially infected miners living in the state and flying to one from work.
Masks will become mandatory from Tuesday for two weeks in Brisbane and several surrounding cities.
“The next 24 to 48 hours will be very crucial in Queensland to know whether or not to see a spread of this delta variety,” said Annastacia Palaszczu, Queensland minister.
The Queensland government has asked the federal government to tighten tough border restrictions to reduce the number of travelers arriving in Australia.
The state of Western Australia has reported a new case in Perth linked to the Sydney cluster. The state welcomes 177 of the potentially infected miners.