Brisbane became Australia’s fourth regional capital city to restrict movement outside of homes.. Read more at

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) – More than 12 million Australians – close to half of the population – are now in lockdown as the nation struggles to contain a spread of the Delta coronavirus variant.
On Tuesday (June 29), Brisbane became Australia’s fourth regional capital city to restrict movement outside of homes except for essential reasons such as shopping and exercise for at least three days, less than 24 hours after a similar move in Perth.
They followed Sydney and Darwin, which over the weekend announced longer lockdowns of up to two weeks. An outbreak in New South Wales (NSW) capital Sydney linked to the variant has grown to nearly 150 cases.
Worries the strain could spark major outbreaks have forced lockdowns in the major cities and some form of curbs in several others – affecting more than 20 million Australians, or about 80 per cent of the population.
The Queensland capital city of Brisbane, along with other areas of South-east Queensland state, including the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast and the more remote regions of Townsville city, Palm Island and Magnetic Island, will enter a three-day lockdown from 6pm on  Tuesday.
“We need to go hard and we need to go fast,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday after two new local cases were recorded from the previous day.
“There will be a lockdown for three days and I don’t want it to be 30 days.” In a late night press conference in Perth on Monday, Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan announced a snap four-day lockdown for that city – the nation’s unofficial resources capital – after a woman returned to the city from Sydney while infectious.
Sydney, home to one-fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, is under a two-week lockdown until July 9 while the lockdown in the northern city of Darwin was extended for another 72 hours until Friday.
Tough restrictions, including mandatory masks and fewer gatherings, are in place elsewhere. NSW reported 19 new locally acquired infections, detected from a record 67,000 tests, versus 18 cases a day ago.
The outbreaks are ramping up pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to increase the pace of a tardy vaccine roll-out. The Delta variant is leaking out of the nation’s hotels being used for quarantine, with the current outbreaks also linked to mining workers and airline crew who have travelled around the nation.
The clusters show the limits of Australia’s so-called “Covid-zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus.
While nations such as Britain and the US are preparing to open up their economies after widespread vaccinations, a slow roll-out in Australia means the economy, particularly domestic tourism, remains vulnerable.
While international borders are closed to most, Queensland and Victoria state leaders have asked PM Morrison’s government to reduce the number of arrivals into the nation until dedicated quarantine facilities are built or a large proportion of the population are vaccinated.
The nation’s current system has proven unable to contain the Delta variant, Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.
“Right around the country right now there is a lot going on with this pandemic,” Mr Miles said.
The outbreaks could all “be traced back to international arrivals. In fact, every day we have new cases in hotel quarantine from people who have travelled from overseas. Our international borders are supposed to be closed.”
Contact tracers around the nation are battling to keep up with a growing list of exposure sites, including some domestic Virgin Australia flights after a cabin crew member tested positive.
Meanwhile, an outbreak at a mining site in a remote region of the Outback in central Australia has raised fears that the nation’s indigenous population is at the greatest risk since the pandemic began.
In response to the clusters emerging around Australia, states and territories are reimposing domestic border restrictions, while a quarantine-free travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand has been suspended.
To head off infections, Australia late on Monday announced steps to increase Covid-19 vaccinations such as mandatory shots for high-risk aged-care workers and employees in quarantine hotels as well as making the AstraZeneca vaccine available to people under the age of 60.
Officials had earlier limited the use of the AstraZeneca shot to only people above 60 due to blood clot worries, while recommending Pfizer shots to everyone under 60 in a major change that slowed Australia’s immunisation drive.
The authorities have now said people under 60 could request the AstraZeneca vaccine if approved by their doctors, who will be covered by a no-fault indemnity scheme matching a wider practice seen overseas.
Health officials say the AstraZeneca vaccine offers a high level of protection against Covid-19 and its benefits far outweigh any risks.
Lockdowns, swift contact tracing and strict social distancing rules have helped Australia keep its Covid-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 30,500 cases and 910 deaths, even as its vaccine roll-out has hit several roadblocks.