Australia will stick to its lockdown strategy to tackle Covid-19 until at least 70 per cent of its population has been fully vaccinated.
After that, it will have to start living with the virus, the country’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Sunday, when the record daily figure of 914 new infections was reported.
“You can’t live with lockdowns for ever, and at some point you need to make that gear change, and that is done at 70 per cent,” Mr Morrison told the Australian broadcaster ABC.
The southern and eastern states of New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory remained under lockdown.
Such measures are a central element of the federal government’s strategy to rein in outbreaks until the 70 per cent vaccination level is reached. Borders will reopen in stages when the figure climbs to 80 per cent.
But, in a departure from the zero-Covid strategy adopted earlier in the pandemic, Mr Morrison said it was highly unlikely that Australia would eliminate cases before the curbs could be eased.
“Lockdowns are not a sustainable way to deal with the virus and that’s why we have to get to the 70 per cent and 80 per cent marks, so we can start living with the virus,” he said.
About 60 per cent of the population of 25 million is now under lockdown. Stay-at-home orders, often lasting for months, have tested the patience of many.
Hundreds arrested at anti-lockdown protests
A worsening outbreak in Victoria, the state that includes Melbourne, led stay-at-home orders to be expanded to the entire state.
But Melbourne’s public health orders did not deter thousands from venting anger in a march against the lockdown rules, and police used pepper spray in violent clashes with protesters.
Seven officers were injured and more than 200 people were arrested, Victoria Police said in a statement on the demonstration, which it called “violent and unlawful”.
“While there were some peaceful protesters in attendance, the majority of those who attended came with violence in mind,” they said.
In Sydney, more than 1,500 police officers flooded the city. They set up roadblocks and made dozens of arrests when about 250 people gathered there, NSW Police said.
NSW Police handed out 940 fines in the past 24 hours for breaches of public health orders.
Large crowds were also reported at an anti-lockdown rally in Brisbane, Queensland, while several hundred people gathered to protest at the state’s border on Sunday, local media reported.
New South Wales reported 830 new infections on Sunday, despite the enhanced efforts. The Australian Capital Territory, home to the capital, Canberra, had 19. Nationwide, the tally of active cases stands at about 12,000.
The south-eastern state of Victoria, in its sixth lockdown since the start of the pandemic, recorded 65 locally acquired cases on Sunday.
“We are throwing everything at this,” said Martin Foley, the state’s health minister.
About 30 per cent of Australians aged 16 and older have been fully vaccinated, health ministry data showed on Saturday. The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is in short supply and the AstraZeneca vaccine provokes public unease.
Despite a third wave of infections from the Delta variant, Australia’s Covid-19 numbers are relatively low, with about 44,000 cases and 981 deaths reported to date.