Australia, which is battling its worst coronavirus outbreak, must cease lockdowns that attempt to stamp out the virus once the country reaches its initial vaccination target of 70 percent of the eligible population, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.
“We have to deal with it; otherwise we stay in the cave forever,” Mr. Morrison told reporters in Canberra, the capital. He pushed back on some state leaders who had suggested that they might continue to enforce lockdowns even after the targets were met. He added, “That’s not a sustainable solution.”
Australia, which last year was held up as a blueprint for tackling the pandemic, has for the past several weeks been battling a growing outbreak of the faster-spreading Delta variant. The outbreak, which began in Sydney, has led to lockdowns across the nation.
Last month, state leaders agreed to limit restrictions once 70 percent of eligible Australians were vaccinated. Mr. Morrison has said the goal is to begin to reopen international borders once that number reaches 80 percent. (A trial of a program that would allow vaccinated travelers to quarantine at home, rather than in designated hotels, is beginning this week. The country’s largest airline, Qantas, has also introduced incentives for vaccinated travelers.)
On Monday, New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, recorded 818 new cases of the virus, with three additional deaths. In the state of Victoria, 71 new cases were reported on Monday. Melbourne, that state’s capital city, has now been under lockdown for more than 200 days over the course of the pandemic. The latest restrictions there spurred protests over the weekend that turned violent.
“You can’t live with lockdowns forever,” Mr. Morrison said, adding that 30 percent of the eligible population was now fully vaccinated, and that more than half had received one dose. “We must adjust our mind-set.”
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