As NSW gets closer to surpassing Victoria’s darkest day of its deadly second wave, Premier Gladys Berejiklian is focussed on the “light” ahead which hinges on the state’s vaccine rates.
The NSW government is currently looking at ways to give vaccinated people more freedom in September when the state is expected to have reached six million jabs.
So far 5.5 million people have been administered their first jab equating to about 55.2 per cent of people over 16 having had at least one dose.
The Australian reports on Friday that government ministers have drawn up a proposed “roadmap” to freedom which is awaiting sign-off from Ms Berejiklian and could be announced next week.
The plan reportedly includes bars, restaurants and gyms reopening to the fully vaccinated once coverage reaches 70 per cent as expected in early October.
People would have to produce a commonwealth-assigned vaccination certificate as proof, the newspaper reports. The unvaccinated would not have these freedoms until 80 per cent vaccine coverage.
However the ACT’s chief minister Andrew Barr has told The Guardian that political leaders should stop presenting 70 and 80 per cent vaccination targets as ‘freedom day’ because the reality will be more nuanced.
Ms Berejiklian has so far not publicly discussed any detail but has promised there will be “light at the end of the tunnel”.
She warned the state should first brace to endure another two difficult months in September and October.
NSW reported 681 new cases on Thursday, again breaking its own record on Australia’s worst day of the pandemic to date as the state inched closer to Victoria’s peak of 725 in August last year.
Australia exceeded 750 cases for the first time on Thursday as regional NSW, Victoria and Canberra battled outbreaks seeded by Sydney.
Victorian health authorities urged people to remain calm about 57 new cases in Melbourne, with 54 linked to existing outbreaks and 44 in isolation throughout their infectious period.
In the ACT, there were 16 cases as authorities work on driving down cases in Australia’s locked down capital.
A positive milestone was achieved on Thursday with more than half of Australia’s population aged 16 and above having received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
This came on a record day of immunisations with 309,010 doses administered nationwide as the behind-schedule rollout ratchets up.
Labor continues to attack the government over the pace of the vaccine rollout which started six months ago.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Australia had reached 50 per cent for first doses on the same day it was announced Americans would start receiving third booster jabs from next month.
“We are way behind,” he told 3AW radio.
“The problem we have is that Scott Morrison said it wasn’t a race and it was a race. Other countries have got ahead of us.”
Australia has fully vaccinated 28.2 per cent of its population aged 16 and above.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced all people in the 16 to 39-year-old age bracket will be eligible to receive a jab from August 30.
The federal government is also waiting for the expert immunisation panel ATAGI to give the green light for 12 to 15-year-olds to be vaccinated, which could come within days.
Victorians are being warned to brace for another spike in case numbers as more close contacts are due for testing before being released from isolation.
On Thursday the state recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases since last year’s deadly second wave after dozens of day 13 tests were returned from isolating close contacts.
COVID Testing Commander Jeroen Weimar warned that number could be high again on Friday although media are reporting numbers appear to have dropped to 20.
“Two thousand people are expected to leave [isolation] today, so I’d expect to see a fairly significant number of people who will test positive on day 13,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne on Thursday night.
He said health authorities “still have more work to do to get our arms around” where the virus has spread to, noting the next 14 days of lockdown will be crucial.
“We’ve got 14 really valuable, really precious, really expensive days that we want to make the most of,” Mr Weimar said.
“We’re determined to get to the bottom of every case.”
Mystery cases remain a source of concern, with three unlinked cases reported on Thursday in Glenroy, Ascot Vale and Doncaster.
St Kilda is Melbourne’s most active cluster, with 18 cases linked to the beachside suburb in recent days, but health authorities are also focusing efforts on Altona, Sunshine West and Doncaster.
There are more than 520 exposure sites in Victoria, with a number of new sites added in Ashburton, Altona North and Newport on Thursday evening.
The ACT’s coronavirus outbreak is racing towards 100 cases after one week, mostly among children and young people.
The territory’s tally hit 83 cases on Thursday as infections cluster around schools, bus and light rail routes, and childcare centres.
Two cases have also been recorded in the neighbouring NSW suburb of Queanbeyan, home to many ACT workers.
Special testing sites for exposed school communities have been added to surge facilities across Canberra as exposure sites reach 250.
Residents of Katherine in the Northern Territory are expected to learn if a COVID-19 lockdown triggered by an infected US defence contractor will end in time for the weekend.
The town was locked down for three days after the man in his 30s travelled from Sydney via Canberra to Darwin.
It was extended for 24 hours on Thursday after authorities learned the man was most infectious while in the town, which he drove to on Sunday.
They’re waiting for test results from people who could have had contact with the infected man at a local resort and Woolworths.
The Greater Darwin lockdown ended as planned at midday on Thursday after all the man’s close contacts returned negative test results.