SYDNEY AND AUCKLAND – Australia and New Zealand, countries in Oceania that have adopted the Covid zero strategy, aimed at completely eliminating the virus from their territories, are struggling to contain outbreaks of the Delta variant. On Thursday, Australia’s new daily Covid-19 cases topped the 1,000 mark for the first time since the pandemic began, reaching 1,117. In New Zealand, 68 new cases were registered in the last 24 hours, a record since April 2020.
In the New Zealand case, an infection caused by the most contagious variant, which appeared in Auckland last week, ended six months without any record of local infections in the country. Sydney, Australia’s largest city, concentrates most cases in the country and is still struggling to end the outbreak that began in late June, even after two months of quarantine. In both countries, which faced the first wave of the pandemic well in 2020, the vaccination campaign is lagging behind in relation to other rich countries.
This week, Sydney hospitals set up outdoor emergency tents to help deal with a surge in patients. New South Wales State Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said authorities had quadrupled the number of intensive care ventilators in the state to 2,000.
Although the system is “under pressure”, it can withstand the current crisis when vaccination rates increase, she said. About 25% of the Australian population has been fully vaccinated, while just over 44% have received at least one dose.
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Of the 116 people admitted to intensive care in New South Wales, 102 are not vaccinated. Three new deaths were reported, including a 30-year-old man who died at home, bringing deaths from the current outbreak to 79 and moving average deaths to two.
Delta threatens to undermine the initial success of fighting the coronavirus in Australia, a country that has kept its total pandemic numbers relatively low, with 47,840 cases and 989 deaths. In addition to Sydney, the country’s second-largest city, Melbourne, and the capital, Canberra, are also quarantined, with more than half of the country’s 25 million people under strict stay-at-home orders.
In New Zealand, the situation caused Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to recognize that the Delta variant will lead to changes in the strategy to fight the disease, such as earlier application of quarantines and broader testing. She said that the goal remains to bring to zero the number of infected in the country, which since the beginning of the pandemic has registered only 3,227 cases.
New Zealand has had no deaths from the disease since Feb. 15, and from the start of the pandemic to today, 26 people have died.
According to Ardern, alternative routes could be considered when the rate of vaccination increases. Today, 38% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine and 20% are fully immunized.