Australian government holds COVID emergency talks
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison was convening an emergency COVID-19 meeting with state and territory leaders Monday afternoon, as outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant saw restrictions return across the country.
Why it matters: This is the first time in months that cases have emerged in multiple parts of Australia simultaneously. Some 18 million Australians, roughly 70% of the population, are now under some form of pandemic restriction, Reuters notes.
- This includes the country's most populous city, Sydney, which locked down for the first time on Saturday as the Delta coronavirus variant continues to spread.
- Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday: "I think we are entering a new phase of this pandemic, with the more contagious Delta strain."
What's happening: The state of New South Wales is the coronavirus epicenter, with 130 community cases — 124 in the Sydney Bondi cluster. Greater Sydney residents are now under a two-week stay-at-home order.
- Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have also imposed restrictions following local outbreaks, with NT capital Darwin entering its first lockdown Sunday. Other states have imposed restrictions on travelers from pandemic hot spots.
The big picture: Australia had largely suppressed outbreaks before the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant emerged. The country has shared a quarantine-free "travel bubble" with New Zealand since April, but NZ paused this until late Tuesday in response to Australia's outbreaks.
- New Zealand raised its COVID-19 alert level in the capital, Wellington, after a visitor from Sydney tested positive for the Delta strain upon his return home last week.
- NZ has not reported a local infection since Feb. 28, but authorities are testing hundreds of people potentially exposed to the Australian traveler to determine whether there are any cases in the community.