Australian doctors warned a too-rapid easing of COVID-19 curbs in Sydney could put pressure on health systems and risk lives, as the city prepares for key restrictions to be relaxed next week after more than 100 days in lockdown.
Stay-at-home orders are due to be lifted on Monday, after New South Wales state this week hit its 70 per cent target of full vaccination for its adult population, and owners of restaurants and other public venues are now scrambling to arrange supplies and staffing.
While an easing of restrictions on travel for Sydney residents outside of their local government areas had previously been planned, authorities on Thursday also decided to bump up permitted limits for home gatherings, weddings and funerals — earning the ire of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
“New South Wales must not be reckless at this critical time,” AMA president Omar Khorshid said in a statement, adding that “too fast or too early” could result in avoidable deaths and the reintroduction of lockdowns.
State Premier Dominic Perrottet has defended his decision to bring forward the easing of several restrictions amid a steady fall in infections, saying the pandemic “is an economic crisis, too.”
Officials have a staggered plan to ease limits on gatherings as full inoculation hits 70 per cent, 80 per cent and 90 per cent of adults, and while movement around the city will be permitted from Monday, restrictions on travelling to regional areas remain.
Daily infections in New South Wales rose on Friday to 646 cases, the majority in Sydney, up from 587 on Thursday. They had previously fallen for the past seven days as first-dose inoculations in people over 16 near 90 per cent. Eleven new deaths were registered.
Victoria state logged a record 1,838 new cases on Friday, the highest number of any state in the country since the pandemic began, exceeding the previous high of 1,763 set three days earlier. There were five new deaths.
Australia is fighting a third wave of infections fuelled by the delta variant. In addition to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra have also imposed lockdowns, forcing the closure of thousands of businesses.
The country’s cumulative COVID-19 numbers are, however, still far lower than many comparable countries, with some 122,500 cases and 1,405 deaths.
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What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 236.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.
Africa’s top public health official has issued a strong reminder about the danger of the continent not having enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines, saying that getting the vaccination rate in Africa up quickly is “a way to ensure the collective security of everybody.”
Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director John Nkengasong said Thursday that while Moderna’s intention to build a vaccine-manufacturing plant in Africa was “very much welcomed,” it “doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of today,” which is “to get these vaccines in the arms of people as quickly as possible.”
Nkengasong said 35 countries are still experiencing a “severe” third wave of infections, but Africa had a 20 per cent average decrease in new cases over the past four weeks.
The continent of 1.3 billion people has only been able to administer 156 million doses of vaccines out of the 200 million it has so far received. Its full vaccination rate has nudged up to 4.57 per cent.
In Europe, Italy increased the maximum attendance capacity allowed at cultural and sporting venues on Thursday, continuing its progressive easing of curbs for those who can show documents of immunity from the disease.
Meanwhile, Spanish authorities say the key 14-day infection rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people has dropped below 50, reaching the threshold considered “low risk” by the health ministry for the first time in over a year.
In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday said more U.S. businesses should obligate workers to receive COVID-19 vaccinations, calling the move vital to ending the pandemic and sustaining the economy.
“Today I’m calling on more employers to act,” Biden said during a visit to the construction site of a future Microsoft Corp data centre near Chicago. The construction firm, Clayco, said it plans to implement immunization or testing requirements for all employees.
Biden last month ordered all federal workers and contractors to be vaccinated, and for private employers with 100 or more workers to require staff to be vaccinated by Dec. 8, or get tested for the coronavirus weekly. That order covers 100 million people, about two-thirds of the workforce.
Panama is purchasing three million additional doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for its inoculation efforts next year, the government said on Thursday, bringing the total number of that vaccine bought by the country to 10 million.
In Asia, Japan has struck a deal with Pfizer to be supplied with another 120 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from January 2022, its health ministry said on Friday. The country arranged to buy about 194 million doses in 2020, or enough for 97 million people.
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