Prime Minister Scott Morrison has again embraced vaccination as the way out of the “third wave” of COVID enveloping the country.
The coronavirus emergency engulfing NSW and spreading into other states and territories was a hot topic at Friday’s national cabinet meeting, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian expecting “robust discussions”.
Afterward, Mr Morrison said the vaccination program was hitting
“world-class marks”, with a record 270,000 shots administered nationwide on Thursday – and more than a million in the past four days.
“Delta is a very determined strain of this virus. So we must continue to suppress its. And we must continue to vaccinate. Suppress and vaccinate,” he said.
“Australians are making that path ahead for our nation out of COVID-19 with every step they take into those vaccination clinics and as they arm themselves with our vaccination, that is what is clearing the path ahead.”
More than 50 per cent of eligible people in NSW have now had one shot of a COVID vaccine, with similar tallies in Tasmania and the ACT. Across the country, one in four eligible Australians has had a first dose.
But premiers and state leaders remain alarmed about the growing spread of the virus across NSW and into other states.
“The Premier is seeking to manage the lockdown in NSW … they are doing the necessary work to understand what easing of some restrictions might mean in the NSW context,” Mr Morrison said.
“She certainly doesn’t want to see an escalation of cases or the virus not being suppressed.”
Earlier, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said NSW was Queensland’s major threat.
“We are very concerned about how the clusters are continuing to expand,” she said.
“I think we would need to hear very clearly from NSW what their clear plan is for containment.
“The last thing we want to see is this virus spread north, the virus spread south, and spread across the nation.”
Queensland had seven more local cases on Friday. All were linked to its Indooroopilly cluster, which state authorities now believe is almost under control.
But, across its southern border, the NSW local government areas of Byron Bay, Richmond Valley, Lismore and Ballina are in lockdown after a Sydney man and his two children travelled to the region and then tested positive.
Further south, an outbreak in the ACT grew to six cases on Friday, with Canberra and its surrounds in a snap shutdown.
With widespread reports of many people leaving the ACT ahead of the lockdown beginning on Thursday, Ms Berejiklian has also put the NSW south coast on alert.
“I know people are concerned about movements that occurred overnight from the ACT to parts of our South Coast, we have had concern from community leaders about that today,” she said.
“If we need to do anything as a pre-emptive move, we will.”
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr also urged Canberra residents to stay home during the week of lockdown.
“It is going to be a very quiet weekend in Canberra, very quiet. We need people to stay at home,” he said.
NSW posted another grim record another 390 local COVID cases on Friday – its highest daily tally yet in the pandemic.
There were also two more fatalities, one a woman in her 40s and a man in his late 90s. The toll from NSW’s worsening outbreak has risen to at least 38.
Authorities have also expressed growing alarm at the spread of the virus in western NSW, describing it as a “big challenge”.
More COVID-19 vaccines are en route to western NSW where 25 new local cases have been recorded.
There were eight cases in Dubbo and two in Walgett by 8pm Thursday but, but a further 15 had been reported by late Friday morning.
More infections are expected in the coming days.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Friday said an additional 8000 vaccines were being sent to Walgett, in the state’s north-west, where about 80 per cent of the 6500 residents in the region are Aboriginal.
Mr Hazzard acknowledged the difficulties facing the Aboriginal medical service in Walgett as well as problems delivering adequate vaccine supplies.
“The ICU in a hospital in a place like that is nowhere near what we would expect in Sydney,” Mr Hazzard said.
“That is why the entire NSW Health service is on high alert and is asking the community up there to definitely stay at home.”
One COVID-19 patient in western NSW is in intensive care, Western NSW local health district chief executive Scott McLachlan said.
The Dharriwaa Elders Group at Walgett had issued an urgent request on Thursday night for more nurses to support Aboriginal Medical Services.
Mr Hazzard admitted those services were understaffed.
Fuelling concern is a combination of significant Indigenous populations, low vaccination rates and relatively poor health services.
A one-week lockdown began on Wednesday for the areas of Walgett, Dubbo, Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine and Warren.
In other parts of NSW, five new cases were on Friday reported in the Hunter New England area and two new cases on the Central Coast.
While there were no new cases recorded in the Tamworth, Armidale and Northern Rivers regions, they remain under lockdown.
NSW Health’s sewage surveillance has detected fragments of the virus in the systems of Tamworth, Bomaderry, Bathurst, Parkes and Bourke.
A case of COVID-19 was on Friday also reportedly uncovered at Bathurst Correctional Centre.