With nearly half its population still under lockdown, the Australian government has taken delivery of its first shipment of Pfizer Covid doses on Monday as part of a swap deal with the UK to help bolster its vaccination campaign.
The deal, which was announced by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on September 3, will see the UK send 4 million Pfizer Covid doses over four weeks to help double the country’s supply of vaccines within the month.
The first batch, around half a million doses, was delivered to Australia overnight, while half the country’s 25 million-strong population remains under lockdown restrictions, including residents in Melbourne and Sydney, the nation’s two biggest cities, and the capital Canberra.
Speaking to Australian broadcaster ABC, the head of the country’s vaccination task force, Lieutenant General John Frewen, stated that “there will be another set of flights in a couple of days” delivering vaccines, with the agreement seeing them receive “a million of the four million every week over the next four weeks.”
Separately, Frewen said that the task force is expecting to take delivery of one million doses of Moderna in “a week or so,” allowing the country to expand its vaccination program, which already includes AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
The swap agreement with the UK will see Australia return Pfizer vaccines to Britain later this year after Canberra receives the bulk of the doses it has ordered from the pharmaceutical company. The deal is designed to enable Australia to “bring forward significantly” the opportunity for the country “to open up again,” according to Morrison.
With only around 38% of Australians fully vaccinated, an outbreak of the Delta variant has fueled a rise in Covid cases, with 1,281 new cases recorded in New South Wales on Monday, while neighboring Victoria state detected 246 new infections.
Australia has set a goal of reopening travel within and across state territories once the nation has fully vaccinated 80% of its over-16s. However, rising case numbers within the country could mean that state officials are unwilling to remove lockdown measures, with New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian warning that the region is expecting cases to increase in the next two weeks.
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