As concerns grow over the spreading Delta variant, PM Scott Morrison revealed a 70%-vaccination goal for the next stage of eased restrictions. His cabinet agreed on the roadmap after 170 new cases were recorded in NSW on Friday.
In a press conference on Friday, Morrison announced the ‘phases’ which his government have planned for the opening up of Australia–a country which has been hard hit with the delta variant in certain regions and in Sydney, and have imposed extended lockdowns.
While 170 new cases were recorded on Friday in New South Wales (NSW), the worst-affected region of Australia this month, Morrison said that the next phase in his Covid roadmap would be to fully vaccinate 70% of eligible Australians. This milestone, which he has called ‘phase B,’ would mean a higher cap on arrivals on international flights and fewer restrictions for fully vaccinated citizens.
The details of the lifted restrictions are ‘still being worked through,’ the PM said.
Under a third, ‘Phase C,’ when 80% of population would be immunized, fully vaccinated Australians will have no restrictions and would be allowed to leave the country.
Morrison has tried to project a sense of unity amongst Australians, saying that states can only move to Phase B if the whole country reaches that average on a national level, and then that state or territory itself also reaches 70%.
“All of Australia has to get there together on average,” said the PM. He also added that there had been over 200,000 doses administered in the last 24 hours, as of Friday evening Australian Eastern Standard Time. But unity hasn’t been a common sentiment amongst many Australians during the pandemic, especially for citizens stuck overseas.
Since the crisis started, Australia has had strict travel restrictions on citizens wanting to leave or return to the country. Many Australians stranded abroad have either had their flights home bumped due to stricter arrivals caps or, for those who make it back to Australia, have had to personally finance AU$3,000 for their mandatory two-week hotel quarantine.
Australian authorities have also faced backlash for their imposed Covid restrictions inside the country, particularly in NSW, with many opposing the vaccine and lockdowns. On Saturday, thousands took to the streets in Sydney to protest against NSW’s extended restrictions, imposed in response to the region’s ongoing battle with the Delta variant. More than 50 people were arrested and 500 have been fined.
NSW police reported that two of the arrested men have been charged with striking police horses.
The recent outbreak of the Delta variant has seen the prospect of Australia’s timely reopening less reachable. Earlier in July, the Australian government halved the cap on international arrivals and Victoria state reimposed lockdowns, after concerns about the NSW outbreak spreading to the neighboring state to the south. Whilst Victoria is no longer locked down, Australia’s vaccination rate remains low, with less than 14% of the population having received both jabs.
When asked if Australia will reach 70% of fully vaccinated citizens by the end of the year, Morrison said: “We’re not going to set timetables on it. I would hope so, but that is entirely up to how the nation responds to this challenge.”
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