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Covid 19 Australia: NSW records 1288 cases and seven deaths, Victoria gives up on elimination

New South Wales has recorded 1288 new local cases of Covid-19 and seven deaths.

There have been 107 Covid-related deaths since the Sydney outbreak began in mid-June, and there are currently 957 people hospitalised with Covid-19 in NSW, 160 of whom are in ICU.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said yesterday the state was getting ready to relax lockdown restrictions next month despite the worsening outbreak.

“It’s impossible to eliminate the Delta strain,” she said. “NSW has proved successful until this point in time of getting rid of other strains of Covid but the Delta strain is a game changer and every state in Australia, sooner or later, is going to have to live with Delta.

As Covid cases continue to surge in NSW, the state has also seen a worrying new trend in the growing hospitalisation rates.

The number of people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 has jumped 42 per cent over the past week. The strain on the health system is starting to show as the cases are spread across 35 of the state’s hospitals — forcing more than 1400 healthcare workers into isolation.

Berejiklian said on Tuesday the state’s hospitalisation rate would peak in October, but she is still determined to relax restrictions when the initial target of fully vaccinating 70 per cent of the eligible population is reached. Currently, 37.8 per cent are fully vaccinated while 69.3 per cent have had their first dose.

“I always said September and October would be the most difficult months, and they will be. But also the best months, in terms of the future,” Berejiklian said. “The national plan does say at 70 per cent… that you can expect to go out and have meals, you can expect to attend a public event, you can expect to go and get services you can’t expect to have done now.”

Clinical epidemiologist Nancy Baxter has pushed back on NSW’s looming exit from the current lockdown settings, telling Network 10 on Monday night that “70 per cent [of the eligible population] is really only 56 per cent of the population. So that’s important to note – you have almost half the people unprotected”.

Reaching the 70 per cent target would make it easier for contact tracers to manage outbreaks, she said, but it would be reckless for NSW to significantly relax restrictions at a time when case numbers could be reaching up to 2000 a day in October.

Victoria

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews offered a grim outlook for the state yesterday after a sharp rise in new Covid-19 cases.

“In just the last two days, the number of cases, the nature of those cases, the depth of the seeding of this outbreak has become clear and the chief health officer’s advice to me and the Government has changed, fundamentally changed,” he said after announcing the state had recorded 120 new infections.

“None of us have the luxury of ignoring that, none of us have the luxury of shopping for the advice that we want. When we get advice we follow it and the data and the evidence and the experts are very clear with us.

“We will not see these case numbers go down. They are going to go up.”

A further 170 local cases were recorded today – the highest spike in 366 days.

Andrews said officials now have to try to suppress case numbers until vaccination rates increase, adding it isn’t possible to “ease restrictions in a profound way” until those rates rise.

This will mean that instead of linking an easing of restrictions with case number thresholds, like Andrews originally indicated, restrictions will now be linked to vaccination rates.

“These numbers are considerably worse than they were yesterday,” he said. “When you add the two of them together and indeed go back three days, this has deteriorated quite fast.”

Under Australia’s national plan, Victoria will remain in limbo until vaccination rates hit 70 to 80 per cent of the eligible population.

Restrictions will remain in place until that first target is met, which is expected later this month, but it remains unclear what freedoms Victorians will be allowed to enjoy when the state reaches that target.

The city’s 9pm curfew will remain in place for now, a decision some infectious diseases experts do not agree with, while a decision on releasing regional Victoria from lockdown is still undecided.

Victoria’s Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said too many residents had sacrificed too much during what was meant to be a “short, sharp” lockdown, and industry leaders criticised what they saw as a lack of forward planning.

Innes Willox, chief executive of the national employer association Ai Group, said New South Wales had shown an ambitious roadmap forward and Victoria had not.

“Our two largest states need to get on the same page as soon as possible, and this will be best achieved by Victoria raising its aspirations for Covid freedom,” she told The Age. “If the aim is to shutter many more businesses in the state, Victoria is moving in the right direction.”

Epidemiologist Tony Blakely told the same publication that Victoria was no longer in a position to ease any restrictions.

“If cases hadn’t moved, and stayed at 40 per day, you could have relaxed restrictions slightly and let cases go up to 500 by the end of October,” he said. “We lost that headroom because cases are going up … and the game has changed.”

Daily cases could peak at 2000 a day in October, he said, and relaxing restrictions in such a situation would not be possible.

“If it went from 5 per cent daily increase to even 6 or 7 per cent, at the end of October, that peak would be two or three times higher. We really are in a bind.”

Queensland

Queensland has recorded a new locally acquired Covid-19 case who was “potentially” infectious in the community for five days.

The new case was a 46-year-old truck driver who lives between the Gold Coast and Brisbane and was infectious from August 27, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath told parliament on Thursday.

Further investigation into the case and contact tracing is underway with exposure sites expected to be revealed later in the morning.

The new case is in addition to a truck driver from NSW who visited towns inside the Queensland border and later tested positive and assigned as a NSW case.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Wednesday withdrew her support for the national reopening plan once the vaccination targets are reached, saying opening Queensland’s borders would be too risky for unvaccinated children.

“You open up this state and you let the virus in here and every child under 12 is vulnerable, every single child,” she told parliament.

Palaszczuk demanded more research be presented on the dangers of Covid-19 for kids before she would agreed to reaffirm her commitment to the national plan.

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