More than 20 million Australians – about 80% of the population – are now under some form of lockdown or COVID-related restrictions as officials tighten rules on movement and push for vaccinations to contain outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Australia has so far been relatively more successful than many other developed countries in containing the spread of the coronavirus throughout the pandemic, with 30,560 COVID-19 cases and 910 deaths.
Border closures, mandatory quarantine, quick lockdowns, tough social distancing rules and swift contact tracing have helped the country suppress previous COVID outbreaks.
But the Delta variant, first identified in India, has breached its defences in five of its eight states and territories.
First Sydney, where the outbreak has now grown to 150 cases, went into a two-week lockdown on Monday after a limousine driver who transported an overseas airline crew became infected.
A stay-home order in the Outback city of Darwin – after a gold mine worker tested positive for the Delta variant – has been extended by 72 hours to Friday.
Now Northern Queensland state has imposed a three-day lockdown in its capital Brisbane – where the mine worker is believed to have become infected while in hotel quarantine – and neighbouring regions.
And the Western Australian capital of Perth has begun a four-day lockdown after a second case “following fleeting contact with the original case” who had visited Sydney, according to local news website So Perth.
Mandatory face masks and curbs on home gatherings have been imposed in areas across the country.
“The risk is real and we need to act quickly, we need to go hard, we need to go fast,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, after the state reported two new local coronavirus cases.
With only 5% of the population fully vaccinated, the AstraZeneca jab is now being offered to all adults to ramp up sluggish vaccination rates.
The government last night agreed to indemnify doctors who administer the vaccine that has been blamed for at least two fatalities from a rare blood clot complication in Australia since April.
Meanwhile, police in New South Wales fined Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce A$200 ($108) for not wearing a mask inside a petrol station.
Mr Joyce, the highest ranking government official to face such a fine, confirmed the incident in a media interview, saying he had gone unmasked to pay for petrol bought for his partner.