(Add Brisbane numbers)
By Renju JosÃ©
SYDNEY, Aug.6 (Reuters) – More than half of all Australians woke up to severe lockdowns on Friday as the country struggles to contain COVID-19 outbreaks fueled by the Delta virus variant, with Victoria reporting a slight relaxation of locally acquired cases.
Closures have been imposed on the east coast, including in Australia’s three largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – putting more than 60% of the country’s 25 million people under strict stay-at-home orders.
Victoria, home to nearly 7 million people, has been plunged into its sixth lockdown since the pandemic began on Thursday evening, just weeks after leaving its last, shaking residents and triggering an anti-lockdown rally in the capital of the State, Melbourne.
Six locally acquired COVID-19 cases were detected in Victoria on Friday, a day after the sudden emergence of several new infections unrelated to Melbourne. He reported eight cases on Thursday.
Of Friday’s cases, all are linked to previously reported cases but were not in quarantine during their infectious period, the state’s health department said.
In Brisbane, authorities reported 10 new cases, up from 16 the day before, and added they hoped a lockdown would be lifted as planned on Sunday since all but two cases were isolated before testing positive.
Residents of Newcastle, the second-largest city in neighboring New South Wales, were also subject to a week-long lockdown from Thursday after new cases were likely linked to a party on the beach visited by some infectious Sydney residents.
Sydney, the worst-hit city, reported 262 infections a day earlier, its largest daily increase to date, despite a multi-week lockdown as authorities brace for more cases amid the growing number of people infected in the community.
The rapidly evolving Delta strain is testing Australia’s largely successful handling of the coronavirus crisis which has kept its exposure relatively low with just over 35,350 cases and 932 deaths.
But stopping and starting blockages in the midst of a slow vaccination rollout, with only around 21% of people over 16 fully vaccinated, frustrated residents.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, criticized for the slow rollout, blamed the delay in changing medical advice on AstraZeneca’s locally produced vaccines due to concerns about rare blood clots and supply constraints regarding injections of AstraZeneca. Pfizer.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; editing by Richard Pullin)
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