Over the past year, Australia has been almost happily separated from the pandemic and coasted. It has achieved a “Covid normal” where people can visit restaurants and night clubs and join the crowd at festivals and theaters.
The country’s strong Covid defenses (border closure and forced quarantine) worked in 99.99% of the time.
When the incident leaked, authorities acted swiftly, aggressively blocking the city and hunting down all infected contacts.
Sydney, Australia’s largest and wealthiest city, was able to avoid regular snap lockdowns backed by a “gold standard” contact tracing system.
But in the last two weeks, Delta variants have managed to break the city’s defenses. In a week, the number of positive cases swelled to over 100.
By Friday, June 25, authorities acknowledged the need to blockade Sydney. By next Monday, the crisis had become national and occurred in four states and territories.
Sydney, Darwin, Perth and Brisbane (all capitals) are currently closed.
More than 20 million Australians, about 80% of the population, live under restrictions. This is the highest number since the national blockade at the start of the pandemic.
At an emergency meeting on Monday, the federal and state governments sought to fill the gap by increasing access to vaccines.
However, many Australians ask why they resumed their lives under restrictions seven months after the world began mass vaccination.
Where Delta saw its weaknesses
Epidemiologists have shown that the Delta mutant is the most infectious and contagious of all strains to date.
If there was a crack in Australia’s defense system, we succeeded in exploiting it.
Borders and quarantine systems have been increasingly challenged since the emergence of the first variants in late 2020.
Authorities recorded cases of the virus being caught in quarantine, even though travelers were staying in separate rooms.
Experts have expressed concern about the recirculation of air in urban hotels and the lack of fresh air.
About 370,000 people use this system. However, there were 10 violations that led to an outbreak.
The two issues currently in question in Australia came from the people involved in hotel quarantine. One is a Northern Territory miner who caught the virus in a Queensland quarantine. The other, a Queensland woman, surfaced the infection shortly after her stay.
Another weakness is border workers.
Australia is famous for its strict gatekeeping that allows entry-there is a weekly limit on the number of returning citizens, Complete ban from some virus hotspots..
When they get off the plane, the returnees are greeted by intimidating fellow soldiers, police officers and nurses-masked and gloved to escort the arrivals directly to the quarantine.
But the same rigor does not apply to other workers-like drivers transporting arrivals.
The zero patient in Sydney was a limousine driver in his 60s who caught it from a passenger. He was not vaccinated, did not wear a mask, and was not regularly tested. You didn’t have to follow the rules of the time.
Despite these flaws, experts point out that Delta is a “horrible enemy” due to its high infection rate.
In New South Wales, Sydney’s capital, authorities report nearly 100% of household infections, compared to 25% of previous strains. The people there caught the virus just by passing each other in the store.
Professor Nancy Baxter, Head of Population and Global Health School at the University of Melbourne, said:
She points out that before the outbreak, authorities saw a case of Delta that “cannot even identify how the infection occurred.”
“So even if the system is perfect, I think it’s challenging, but the system isn’t perfect and it makes us almost like sitting on a duck.”
Unvaccinated and exposed
The dangers of Delta also shed light on the failure of the Australian vaccine program. A little less than 5% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and 29% are first vaccinated.
Australia is the last OECD country to deploy vaccines. Critics say the government is responsible.
“More people are partially vaccinated than vaccinated, and even more are unvaccinated,” said Raina MacIntyre, a professor at the University of New South Wales.
“In that sense, the population is very vulnerable.”
This delay is associated with supply issues, complacency for low Covid rates, and concerns about AstraZeneca’s rare risk of blood clotting.
As a result, the government decided earlier this year to limit its use to people over the age of 60, despite the lack of adequate supply of another option, Pfizer.
The confusing message was exacerbated by sensational media coverage that amplifies AstraZeneca’s risk.
According to local media, it surprised many Australians, including limousine drivers associated with the Sydney outbreak who were afraid to take AstraZeneca’s jabs.
So what is Australia doing now?
Experts are unanimous that the current outbreak must be contained with blockades and other restrictions. It’s just getting started, but they hope that a two-week shutdown in Sydney is enough to stop the spread of the virus.
But to prevent future delta outbreaks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison seems to have accepted what experts have been asking for a while: increasing the pace of vaccination.
He ordered essential jabs for senior care and quarantine workers in the highest risk environments.
Morrison also opened access to young people with the AstraZeneca vaccine and provided physicians with compensatory protection in case of side effects.
End of “Covid normal”
Experts warn that Delta may have changed the situation for Covid in Australia forever.
Experts say that the threat of Delta Air Lines will be prolonged as Australians continue to return home without mass vaccination being achieved until 2022.
That may mean that measures such as wearing masks in public places still need to be mandatory for some time.
“Before this, it was great. You’re going out for dinner and doing a show with thousands of people,” Dr. Baxter said.
“But the risk is so great that I don’t know if we can do it again until everyone is vaccinated. I don’t think we can live without Covid anymore.”