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World Insights: Australia's flawed fight against COVID-19

© Provided by Xinhua

Local scholars and health officials in Australia argued that belated lockdown, uncontrolled local transmission, and lagging vaccination plan are creating more uncertainty over the prospect of the country's anti-COVID efforts and its recovery from the pandemic.

SYDNEY, July 30 (Xinhua) -- As people in Sydney, Australia's most populous city, are still reeling from a prolonged lockdown due to the persistent COVID-19 pandemic, the country's fight against the deadly pathogen is revealing more defects and flaws.

Local scholars and health officials in Australia argued that belated lockdown, uncontrolled local transmission, and lagging vaccination plan are creating more uncertainty over the prospect of the country's anti-COVID efforts and its recovery from the pandemic.

LESS EFFECTIVE LOCKDOWN

In the state of New South Wales(NSW), as of Friday, while a lockdown is still in place and due to continue until Aug. 28, at the very earliest, there have been 2,980 locally acquired cases in the latest outbreak since June 16.

Since the early stages of the outbreak, there has been a heated debate around whether the lockdown should have started earlier. It wasn't until 10 days after recording the first case in the initial cluster that authorities moved on the decision for Greater Sydney and the surrounding areas.

Sydney University epidemiologist Professor Alexandra Martiniuk believed the state of NSW had allowed the virus to gain momentum, especially considering how fast the Delta strain can spread.

"Unfortunately, the lockdown was slow in its implementation at the very start and remained loose in its restrictions initially," she told Xinhua.

Speaking to Xinhua earlier this month, Stephen Leeder, emeritus professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Sydney University, also agreed that the virulent strain was among the main reasons for the lockdown's limited results, and in his own opinion, that some people have not taken the lockdown as seriously as before. "They have become too blase about it."

© Provided by Xinhua

Last weekend, Australian capital cities including Sydney, saw thousands of protesters taking on the streets for "anti-lockdown," which were blamed to be super spreader events.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said on Friday that it was possible somebody who had attended the protests had been infectious.

LAGGING VACCINE ROLLOUT

According to the experts, Australia's slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout has exacerbated the situation.

"Concern about the effectiveness of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and indications that there would be access to Pfizer later in the year made many people consider waiting and not being vaccinated right away," Head of Melbourne University's School of Population and Global Health Professor Nancy Baxter told Xinhua.

Many critics have accused Australia of putting all of its eggs in one basket when it comes to vaccines, betting large on AstraZeneca. The changing advice on the British-developed shot and a lack of a well-supplied alternative has led many Australians to hold out for shots that aren't there -- this has been especially catastrophic for older Australians.

"Sadly, a number of older folk have died during the Sydney outbreak and none were vaccinated despite all being eligible," said Baxter.

© Provided by Xinhua

NSW, as epicentre of the current outbreak, claimed that its Pfizer vaccine supply is running thin, but its request for other states to hand over some vaccines were rejected in the National Cabinet. The federal government's later decision to offer extra vaccines to NSW raised question and criticism from other states.

The latest figures from NSW Health show just over 3.7 million doses have been administered since February in a population of more than 8 million.

As a nation, Australia has one of the lowest vaccination rates among 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development with just over 14 percent of the nation's population fully vaccinated.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison admitted the vaccination challenges and apologised for the rate lagging behind earlier.

"I take responsibility for the vaccination program. I also take responsibility for the challenges we've had ... I'm certainly sorry that we haven't been able to achieve the marks that we had hoped for at the beginning of this year," he told media.

GLOOMY PATH FORWARD

During an interview with national broadcaster ABC, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned the nation could fall into a second recession if the Greater Sydney lockdown failed to contain the COVID-19 outbreak -- citing the fact that the lockdowns are costing the economy an estimated 300 million Australian dollars (about 220 million U.S. dollars) each day.

Professor of Economics at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Richard Holden told Xinhua that while the economic impact of the lockdowns was astronomical, it remained the only option given the alternative of the virus spreading in a largely unvaccinated community.

"That's the difficult situation we are in," Holden stressed.

© Provided by Xinhua

While the lockdown's crippling impact on the economy and job market can be measured in data, an intangible side of the equation has been its psychological damage.

Professor Jill Newby from the UNSW's School of Psychology told Xinhua that being isolated from loved ones and uncertainty around when the lockdown will end will have a significant impact on people's mental health.

With the outbreak showing little sign of abating, the likelihood of the lockdown ending on August 28 appears slim.

On Friday, there were 170 new locally acquired cases recorded in NSW, at least 42 of which were infectious while in the community.

Martiniuk believed it may be too optimistic to expect the lockdown to end within the next month. "Melbourne's lockdown was four months last winter; and this is Delta now meaning it's a harder game."

Professor Holden said lift of restrictions could be as late as November. "If it's earlier, that's fantastic ... if we continue on the current track, I think it's pretty hard to see how things could end any time soon."

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