- Title: As death toll crosses 1,000, a weary Australia plans to reopen
- Date: 30th August 2021
- Summary: GREAT BARRIER REEF, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA (FILE) (REUTERS) TOURISTS SCUBA DIVING AT REEF FISH SWIMMING TOURISTS SCUBA DIVING AT REEF
- Embargoed: 13th September 2021 02:08
- Keywords: Australia COVID-19 Delta Sydney coronavirus lockdown pandemic
- Location: SYDNEY, BRISBANE, GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA
- City: SYDNEY, BRISBANE, GREAT BARRIER REEF, AUSTRALIA
- Country: Australia
- Topics: Asia / Pacific,Australia,Health/Medicine
- Reuters ID: LVA002ESGZBD3
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Police patrol Coogee Beach in Sydney's east have been enforcing public health orders such as mask wearing, but the measures have done little to stop Australia's COVID-19 death toll from passing 1,000, a grim but modest number by global standards.
The highly infectious Delta variant has breached the country's fortress-style controls, entrenching itself deep enough in Sydney, Australia's biggest city, that authorities have dispensed with plans to eliminate it.
Instead, the plan is to ramp up Australia's lagging vaccination effort and live with COVID-19, an approach that would help struggling businesses but which is opposed by states determined to crush the disease.
Australia, recording its 1003th COVID-19 death on Monday (August 30), is logging an average of two to three a day, government data shows.
But while deaths are creeping higher, infections are surging to successive record highs above 1,000 a day. With more than half the population in lockdown, even those areas with little or no infections are affected.
The exuberance that accompanied Australia's early suppression success has since been replaced with community frustration at a delayed vaccine programme that has only recently picked up pace.
Just over 33% of those aged 16 and older have received two vaccine doses, well below most comparable nations, according to a Reuters tracker.
As the weary nation reopens, authorities hope to avoid the soaring infections and rising death experienced in countries such as Britain and the United States - which recently posted more than 1,000 deaths in a single day.
The lesson for Australia is that mask-wearing should not be discarded as restrictions ease and that classrooms should be better ventilated to protect students from the airborne virus, said epidemiologist Raina MacIntyre.
"Wearing a mask is a small price to pay to get that additional layer of control," said MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Research Program at the Kirby Institute, UNSW Medicine. "We'll need a vaccines-plus strategy as well as ventilation."
But some states that are currently largely free from infections, including Queensland and Western Australia, are pushing back against the plan as they watch health services at the centre of the Delta outbreak in Sydney and its surrounding areas come under stress.
Daniel Gschwind, chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, said the outbreaks and lockdowns were having a devastating impact on local tourism operators. He estimated the state is losing $7 billion AUD ($5.1 billion) a year of from international tourists and as much as $1 billion AUD ($731 million) a month from other parts of Australia.
"There is no immediate end in sight. That's an issue that is weighing on us and weighing on the operators and that's why it's so important to maintain some kind of hope, some kind of perspective of how we can get out of this," he said.
In the meantime, business owners are grappling with a prolonged lockdown, especially in Sydney, which has now entered its third month of restrictions.
Sydney restaurateur Craig Jarman said authorities seemed to be unprepared for the latest outbreak and that there was not enough financial support to help businesses get through it.
"This time it's a whole different story. It's a lot more aggressive, it's a lot more contagious. People are a lot more wary about being out and about, and financially it's really hurt us a lot," said Jarman, who runs the Zebra Lounge in the inner-city suburb of Pyrmont.
The rising case count means Australia will re-open under a cloud of infections when, up until the Delta strain, it was on track to be largely virus free.
Delta's high infectiousness, short incubation, and asymptomatic spread, meant it spread quickly after being first detected in Sydney in June. Caseloads are higher for younger people, who have had limited or no access to vaccines.
(Production: Jill Gralow)
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