Australia’s national cabinet is set to meet on Friday amid calls from states to limit the numbers of international arrivals until the country reaches a high vaccination coverage as millions endure COVID-19 lockdowns imposed to contain the Delta variant.
Australia is fighting outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant simultaneously in three state capital cities, including Sydney, with nearly half of all Australians currently under strict stay-at-home orders.
Lockdown rules will be eased in parts of Queensland from Friday, although they have been extended in state capital Brisbane and a neighbouring region for another day after three new locally acquired cases, state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city and home to a fifth of the country’s 25 million population, is halfway through its two-week lockdown. Stay-at-home orders in Perth and Darwin, the capital city of the Northern Territory, will be reviewed on Friday.
Lockdowns, swift contact tracing and tough social distancing rules have helped Australia to suppress prior outbreaks but a fast-moving Delta strain has alarmed authorities amid a sluggish nationwide vaccination drive.
The rollout, mired in confusion and frustration due to frequent changes in medical advice for the AstraZeneca vaccine, has become a flashpoint in relations between the federal government and state leaders.
State leaders of Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia are urging the federal government to lower the cap of international arrivals from around 6,000 a week, arguing the Delta variant was straining their hotel quarantine system.
Most recent virus outbreaks in Australia have been traced to leaks in hotel quarantine.
“Locking some people out is much better than locking everybody down … and that’s what I’ll argue at National Cabinet today,” Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement.
The national cabinet, the group of federal and state government leaders, was formed during the early days of the pandemic to coordinate the country’s response to COVID-19.