Most Australians are once again living under strict virus restrictions as Victoria wakes to its sixth lockdown, Sydney suffered its worst day of the pandemic and more regions of NSW were ordered to clamp down.
About 15 million people across Victoria, NSW and Queensland are battling a resurgent Delta and the pain is being felt as thousands of recently locked down Australians defer mortgage repayments or business loans.
The Australian Banking Association confirmed more than 20,000 customers have received hardship assistance, some 14,500 have deferred mortgage repayments since July 8, and there have been more than 600 business loans.
Most are in NSW and many of the calls for help are coming from businesses and families who’ve been hit by the shutdown of the construction industry, the banking peak body says.
Meanwhile, frustration boiled over in Melbourne on Thursday night as a “small minority” deliberately flouted the rules to protest the snap lockdown that came into effect at 8pm and was announced with only three hours warning.
Police arrested 15 people after hundreds of protesters gathered at Flinders Street about 7pm and moved into Swanston Street, in the Melbourne CBD, lighting flares and chanting “no more lockdowns” and “COVID is fake”.
There were a LOT of people at these snap anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne
(Video posted to one of the social media groups involved in the rally, not taken by me) pic.twitter.com/ZDi3Uf8FGO
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) August 5, 2021
“Four of the offenders who were arrested or fined are known to police as protest organisers,” Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius said.
“They have been dealt with previously and it is expected will be presented to court on appropriate charges, such as incitement”.
“Police are, together with the vast majority of Victorians who are doing the right thing, outraged that a small minority of people continue to engage in deliberate breaches of the CHO Directions, putting the lives and jobs of their fellow Victorians, as well as their police at risk.”
As lockdown-weary Australians wish for an end to the yo-yo ride, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Friday afternoon chair a virtual national cabinet meeting to discuss pressing pandemic issues.
Sydney’s crisis is the most concerning flashpoint with 262 local cases and five deaths on Thursday.
Eight new cases in Melbourne triggered its seven-day lockdown, while south-east Queensland residents remain hopeful of easing their heavy restrictions on Sunday.
National cabinet will take the first steps towards deciding what sort of vaccination incentives could be used.
Mr Morrison is opposed to Labor’s plan for fully vaccinated people to receive one-off $300 payments, instead flagging greater freedoms later in the rollout.
“The best incentive is this – you’re less likely to get the virus,” he said.
“You’re less likely to transmit the virus. You’re less likely to get seriously ill. You’re less likely to die.”
Mr Morrison insists lockdowns will be the main tool to conquer outbreaks until vaccination rates meet nationally agreed targets of 70 and 80 per cent.
Further financial support for Victorian businesses is expected be announced on Friday, with those that applied for grants during the last lockdown to receive payments again.
Victorians face the same rules that applied during July’s lockdown, including the five reasons to leave home, a five-kilometre travel limit for exercise and shopping, and compulsory masks indoors and outdoors.
Thousands of businesses have been forced to shut again, as the state government faces criticism that not enough warning was given before Thursday’s announcement.
“The 8pm start, with three hours’ notice, doesn’t give any business enough time to plan,” Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Paul Guerra said.
Victoria’s tourism council said the current support was “simply no longer adequate to sustain businesses”, as it encouraged the government to push again to have JobKeeper returned.
Health officials remain concerned about two mystery cases – an infected teacher at Al-Taqwa College in Truganina and a Maribyrnong man in his 20s, both in Melbourne’s west.
The teacher, who lives in the Hobsons Bay area, has already passed the virus to her partner and two relatives, with fears she might have also unknowingly spread the virus in the community.
Thousands of close contacts are isolating and there are more than 80 exposure sites, with that number expected to grow on Friday.
For exposure sites visit coronavirus.vic.gov.au/exposure-sites
NSW’s lockdown spreads
People in Newcastle and the Hunter region have joined greater Sydney in lockdown after NSW suffered its darkest day of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The one-week snap lockdown was called after five new cases turned up in Newcastle and eight more were found in the Central Coast region.
The state had 262 new local cases on Wednesday, of which at least 72 were in the community while infectious.
Five people died in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday – three men in their 60s, a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s. None were fully vaccinated.
It was the deadliest day of the pandemic in NSW, with the highest daily number of cases.
Also in NSW, a 34-year-old woman died of a rare clotting syndrome caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine, the Therapeutic Goods Administration reported on Thursday.
Meanwhile, developers are warning they’ll need to put people out of work if restrictions remain in place past August.
The Urban Development Institute of Australia surveyed its members, with a quarter saying they would need to make large cuts to their workforces if restrictions went on any longer.
UDIA chief executive Steve Mann wants the government to allow Sydney workers who have had two jabs to leave their local government areas to work at the end of August.
Hope for SEQ
Queenslanders will have a better idea on Friday if a lockdown in the south-east is likely to end, with authorities hoping for another day of no mystery cases.
The state’s COVID-19 cluster has been steadily growing – 16 locally acquired cases were reported on Thursday.
But authorities have been able to link all to the Indooroopilly cluster in Brisbane.
If every new case on Friday can be traced back to that cluster, chief health officer Jeannette Young can be more confident there are no undetected chains of transmission.
Dr Young is upbeat about the prospects of the lockdown lifting as planned on Sunday at 4pm.