Sydney will remain in lockdown for another month as officials continue to struggle to contain a growing outbreak of the Delta coronavirus variant.
It comes as parts of Australia have been forced to go back into lockdown despite the country having three million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine stored, according to reports.
Australia has relied to date on two vaccines – the AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
However, fears about the AstraZeneca jab’s side effects, including an increased risk of blood clots, has slowed the uptake of that inoculation.
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People wait in line outside a vaccination centre at Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia. Pic: AP
Lockdown in the city of five million will continue until 28 August, after 177 new infections were reported in the latest 24-hour period.
More than 2,500 people have been infected in a cluster that began when a limousine driver tested positive in June for the COVID Delta variant. He had been infected by a US aircrew he transported from Sydney airport.
The death toll from the cluster has now reached 11, after a woman in her 90s died in hospital.
“I am as upset and frustrated as all of you that we were not able to get the case numbers we would have liked at this point in time but that is the reality,” said New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Continuing lockdown restrictions mean members of the public are only allowed to leave their property with a reasonable excuse.
Asked what he made of areas within Australia being in lockdown despite the country having vaccines available, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the PA news agency: “We know that AstraZeneca is safe – it has been WHO approved, it has been approved by the European, the UK agencies.
“The vast majority of COVAX-distributed vaccines to the poorest and most vulnerable countries around the world today have been AstraZeneca.
“It is crucially important that people get the jab, whichever country they are.”
‘We know that AstraZeneca is safe,’ said Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab
While Australia has been relatively more successful than many other countries at containing the spread of the coronavirus – due to quick lockdowns, tough social distancing rules and swift contact tracing – it has faced difficulty rolling out its vaccination programme.
The country has reported 33,474 COVID cases with 921 deaths, but figures show only 16% of adults is fully vaccinated.
In the UK, 70% of people aged 18 and above have been given both vaccinations, with 88% offered one dose.
This is in part due to Australia being reliant on the AstraZeneca jab while the government recommends people under 60 get a Pfizer vaccine over the blood clot fears.
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This advice, issued on 17 June, has put a strain on Pfizer stockpiles, while concerns about AstraZeneca has contributed to some vaccine hesitancy.
One of the world’s most remote towns, Alice Springs – located roughly 800 miles away from the nearest city in Australia – has also been put into lockdown after a man travelling through the airport later tested positive for the virus.
Now, everyone in the town has been told they need to stay at home for three days, only being allowed to leave for food, healthcare, exercise, work and to provide care for others.