Australia’s Sydney suffers worst COVID-19 day as lockdown nears six weeks

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Sydney reported its worst day of the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday with five deaths and a record rise in locally acquired infections as a weeks-long hard lockdown is struggling to contain the highly contagious Delta strain of the coronavirus.

Four of the five people that died were unvaccinated while one had at least one dose, New South Wales state health authorities said, as they implored residents to get inoculated as early as possible.

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“Please now is the time to strongly consider getting vaccinated ... and for the elderly who have not been vaccinated, again, I put out a plea to you - make an appointment,” New South Wales Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told reporters in Sydney, the state capital and Australia’s largest city.

Authorities also announced a one-week lockdown from Thursday evening in a region north of Sydney, home to the state’s second largest city of Newcastle, after reporting new cases and finding fragments of the virus in the sewerage there.

There were 259 new COVID-19 cases in Sydney, out of 262 in all of New South Wales, health authorities said, daily records for the city and the state, which reported a previous high of 239 on Sunday.

There have been more than 4,300 cases in New South Wales during the latest surge that began seven weeks ago after the first case of the Delta variant was detected in an unvaccinated, unmasked limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.

With around 35,200 COVID-19 cases and 932 deaths, Australia has avoided the high caseloads of other developed countries but its vaccination figures are among the lowest, with only 20 percent of its population over 16 fully vaccinated.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian has tied the vaccination rate to easing lockdown restrictions on Aug. 28, setting a target of 6 million shots by the end of the month that would cover half the state’s adult population. About four million doses have been given so far in New South Wales.

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But the growing list of new venues where COVID-19-positive people have visited while infectious is tempering any optimism. About one-fifth of cases reported on Thursday were active in the community, in line with the trend over the last several days.

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