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Australia tightens lockdown amid Delta virus outbreak and vaccine chaos

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SYDNEY – Australia reported a slight increase in COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, as officials in several states tightened movement restrictions and pushed for vaccines to limit outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant.

After months of nearly eliminating the virus, Australia is battling the variant in five of its eight states and territories, just two weeks after an infection in the key city of Sydney that involved a crew limousine driver. from a foreign airline.

Concerns that the variant first detected in India could trigger outbreaks have forced closures in three major cities and restrictions of varying severity in several more, affecting more than 20 million Australians, or around 80% of the population.

The north Queensland state imposed a three-day lockdown on the capital Brisbane and neighboring regions since Tuesday night. Western Australia’s capital Perth began a four-day lockdown from Tuesday, joining Sydney and Darwin.

“The risk is real and we must act fast, we must push ourselves, we must act fast,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. The state reported two new local cases.

Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia’s population, is on a two-week lockdown until July 9, while a stay-at-home order in the inner city of Darwin was extended for 72 hours through Friday. The Sydney outbreak has risen to nearly 150 cases.

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Mandatory masks and meeting limits are among the roadblocks across Australia.

Police in the most populous state of New South Wales fined Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce 200 Australian dollars ($ 150) for not wearing a mask inside a gas station, media said.

Joyce, the highest-ranking government official facing such a fine, confirmed the incident in a media interview, saying that he had unmasked himself to pay for gasoline purchased for his partner.

Even under lockdown, New South Wales reported 19 new locally acquired infections, up from 18 a day ago.

Western Australia reported no new cases, despite being blocked, while the Northern Territory detected two.

VACCINE CONFUSION

Monday’s decision to indemnify doctors who administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to those under 60, an attempt to launch a slow inoculation program, prompted complaints from doctors who said the medical regulator still recommended the vaccine for the elderly. 60 years.

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“Phones are ringing non-stop in GP clinics,” said Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, on Twitter.

“We did not receive any notice of last night’s announcements and this is not the first time that has happened.”

Omar Khorshid, president of the Australian Medical Association, said the change took him by surprise and caused “disagreement and confusion”, apparently contradicting formal advice.

“AstraZeneca is safe, it is effective, but for those under 60 there is a better vaccine and that is Pfizer,” Khorshid told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Public health experts from three states said they were not consulted prior to the announcement.

Border closures, lockdowns and contact tracing have helped Australia contain infections, with just over 30,500 cases and 910 deaths, but the federal government has faced criticism over the rate of vaccination.

Less than 5% of the population has been completely inoculated.

Neighboring New Zealand said it will resume non-quarantine travel next week with the states of South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory as it lifted restrictions on its capital Wellington. ($ 1 = 1.3235 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Edited by Himani Sarkar)

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