Australia has experienced its highest number of daily coronavirus cases – 970 – since the start of the pandemic, with a rampant outbreak of the Delta strain in NSW fuelling the grim milestone.
All eyes will be on that state on Thursday to see whether the 919 local infections recorded the previous day was the peak or whether cases are indeed still climbing. Unfortunately, it looks like the latter.
Leaders discussed the rising caseload at Wednesday night’s crisis cabinet meeting where they considered whether it would be possible to release regional residents from lockdown. It’s not looking likely.
Meanwhile, there’s no sign of relief for Victorians in regional areas as outbreaks spread in Geelong and in Shepparton, where locals are calling for more help from the Army.
A food court in Shepparton has been linked to a case, as has another Melbourne hospital, as exposure sites across the state blow out to more than 800.
Canberrans, meanwhile, have been told lockdown cannot end early. But they might expect some restrictions to ease in the days ahead.
Here’s the latest.
Ten weeks in to an ever-escalating COVID-19 outbreak, NSW residents could soon wake to more freedom with decisions on vaccine incentives and the lockdown of the state’s regions imminent.
The crisis cabinet met to discuss the two issues on Wednesday, after the state notched up another grim record with 919 local cases to 8pm on Tuesday.
Of those, 71 were diagnosed in the Nepean Blue Mountains region, 49 in western NSW, seven in the far west, eight in the Illawarra Shoalhaven, four in the Hunter New England and one in the Central Coast.
- Exposure sites include a food court in Bateau Bay, takeaway shop in Berkeley, and venues in Dubbo. Click here to see the full list
Deputy Premier John Barilaro acknowledged the case numbers did not bode well for many regions in NSW, where lockdown is due to end on Saturday.
“We haven’t made any decision … but as you can see in the numbers, the central west isn’t getting better, [while] the far west, Hunter and New England, even though under control still has cases,” he said on Wednesday.
Evolving outbreaks in Aboriginal communities remain a critical concern.
At least 448 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW have contracted COVID-19 since mid-June.
The ABC reports that just 6.3 per cent of the Aboriginal population in western NSW is fully vaccinated, compared to 26 per cent of the non-Indigenous population in the region.
First Nations communities in western and far western NSW have told the ABC that “negligent” and “incompetent” lack of planning by state and federal governments contributed to low vaccination rates in their areas.
Back in the city, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has celebrated the fact that nearly one-third of the state’s population has been inoculated, telling fully vaccinated NSW residents they will have “at least one” freedom restored by week’s end.
But state leaders are mulling whether to exclude those living in local government areas of concern – who amount to almost half of Sydney’s population – until case numbers drop.
On Wednesday, Ms Berejiklian urged people not to panic about the record number of cases – up by 166 from the previous day – instead to focus on vaccination rates.
“Nearly one-third of our population is fully vaccinated,” she said.
“If we keep these rates up we will hit further milestones.”
Her government is also expected to give details of a plan to return students to school and how to conduct the HSC amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The authority in charge of the HSC has suggested to government that the exams – already postponed – be pushed back further to early November, according to Nine newspapers.
Also possible is cancelling some public exams, Nine reported.
There’s going to be pressure on yet another hospital after it emerged a case had potentially come into contact with staff and patients.
- Click here for Victoria’s exposure sites
Monash Medical Centre’s Emergency Department in Clayton was listed among the new tier-one exposure sites on Wednesday night.
The food court at Shepparton Marketplace is also a tier-one site.
That town has been crying out for more help after a COVID-19 cluster forced local supermarket staff into isolation, limiting access to essential supplies.
The outbreak in Shepparton, about 180 kilometres north of Melbourne, has grown to 50 cases and forced an estimated 17,000 residents to isolate.
Many supermarkets have closed for cleaning after being listed as exposure sites, including a large IGA in the town’s north.
Coles supermarkets in the region are operating on reduced hours due to staff availability, while some home delivery and click-and-collect orders have been cancelled in recent days.
More exposure sites were added in the region on Wednesday afternoon, including a Shepparton East Woolworths and a KFC in the centre of town.
Shepparton independent MP Suzanna Sheed wants Premier Daniel Andrews to send 100 Defence personnel by Thursday for logistics such as truck driving, packing and delivering supplies.
“We need help,” read a front-page splash in the city’s local newspaper on Wednesday.
About 50 ADF personnel have arrived to support Goulburn Valley Health with testing and door-to-door checks. Health Minister Martin Foley said further support would be provided if needed.
Earlier health authorities warned Victorians were still taking too long to get tested, with mystery cases continuing to pile up.
“Some of the recent cases that I’ve mentioned haven’t been tested for seven or eight days,” health department deputy secretary Kate Matson said.
Of Victoria’s 45 local COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, 28 were out in the community while infectious. The source of infection was yet to be found for nine.
Mr Foley said lowering both figures would be key to determining whether the statewide lockdown ended on September 2.
In good news, more than 95,000 Victorians booked vaccine appointments at state-run hubs on Wednesday.
Young people rushed to join the queue after the Pfizer eligibility was expanded to include those aged 16 to 39.
Canberra won’t come out of lockdown early, but the ACT could tweak restrictions as its coronavirus outbreak grows to 176 cases.
- Click here for the full list of exposure sites
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has ruled out ending the lockdown before September 2, but flagged changes to be announced before the weekend.
Whether the lockdown drags on depends on the number of people infectious in the community and whether cases can be linked.
“We will come out of this gently, week by week as we continue to get our vaccination rate up,” Mr Barr said on Wednesday.
Nationally, he didn’t expect the 80 per cent full vaccination threshold to be reached until the end of November.
“The challenge for Canberra is how many more of us can we protect through vaccination between now and then,” he said.
Mr Barr foreshadowed movement across borders being much more free later in the year and into 2022.
Canberra had nine more infections on Wednesday. Eight were linked and four in the community while infectious.
A person with a disability was among the new cases, taking the number of cases in that sector to 18.
Overall cases included seven people in hospital, one of them an unvaccinated woman in her 40s requiring ventilation.
Two other patients were in hospital because of other health conditions and not COVID-19.
Children comprise 38 per cent of the ACT’s overall cases, while 46 per cent are adults under the age of 45.