End in sight for 11-week lockdown
by Sybilla Gross
Australia’s most-populous state will lift stay-at-home orders for fully-vaccinated adults once 70% of the population has received two shots, the government said Thursday as it unveiled a roadmap to end Sydney’s 11-week lockdown.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said pubs, restaurants, gyms and retail outlets would be allowed to reopen to fully-vaccinated people, with social-distancing measures enforced. She said she expected the vaccination target to be met in October, and announced some regional communities in the state would see lockdowns lifted on Saturday.
“I cannot stress enough how important it is for people to get vaccinated,” she said. “If you have not had both doses of the vaccine by the time we hit the 70%, you will not be able to take advantage of these freedoms.”
The commitment to ease the lockdown marks a reversal from the nation’s COVID-Zero approach, which has been under unprecedented pressure from an outbreak of the highly-contagious delta variant in Sydney and Melbourne. New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria state are now favouring vaccination targets before reopening their locked down economies, while states such as Western Australia have chosen to keep their borders shuttered to keep the virus out.
The differing approaches have caused friction between state leaders and generated confusion. Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants all domestic border restrictions to be lifted by Christmas.
New South Wales recorded 1,405 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, while Victoria recorded 324.
An easing of lockdown restrictions in New South Wales will provide a welcome boost to Australia’s economy, which is set to contract sharply this quarter. Economists are downgrading fourth-quarter growth estimates as well and Westpac Banking Corp. now sees growth this year wiped out by delta.
Australia’s international borders have been largely closed since March last year and more than 30,000 citizens and residents are stranded overseas due to limited flights and bottlenecks in the availability of hotel rooms for the mandatory 14-day quarantine. In a video message, Morrison thanked expats for their “sacrifices” and said his government was working on plans to allow home quarantine to speed up their return.
Copyright Bloomberg News