A person exercises at the Sydney Opera House on a foggy start to the day on June 30, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. Lockdown restrictions continue as NSW health authorities work to contain a growing cluster of Covid-19.
Brook Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images
A recent spike in Covid cases has prompted Australian authorities to scramble to contain the delta variant, which was first detected in India.
The country has handled the coronavirus pandemic relatively better than most, with fewer than 31,000 total cases due to strict social distancing rules, border restrictions, contract tracing and lockdowns.
Several major cities were closed last week, including Sydney – the capital of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, and home to more than five million people.
New South Wales reported 35 new local cases on Monday as authorities crack down on individuals and businesses for flouting restrictions. State Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian has reportedly warned that the situation over the next few days would decide whether the two-week lockdown in Sydney would be extended beyond July 9.
Australia’s national cabinet last week agreed to halve the number of international arrivals allowed into the country by July 14 as part of a four-phase stimulus package. Non-residents are mostly banned from entering the country, with a few exceptions.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a testing program would allow some vaccinated travelers to self-isolate at home, with the aim of reducing pressure on Australia’s quarantine system.
Australia is still in the first phase of its plan, which emphasizes vaccines and social restrictions to minimize community transmission, according to the cabinet assessment. The next three phases would be post-vaccination, consolidation and, finally, reopening of borders.
The federal stimulus package needs more precision, which would provide greater certainty for Australian companies looking to reopen, according to Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia.
“We need really clear goals. We need a really clear threshold. We need these to be realistic,” she said Monday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia”.
“Businesses can start planning. Airlines can start planning. Small businesses can start planning. We need a little more precision,” she added.
Many businesses, including farmers, depend on international labor. Prolonged border closures mean a labor shortage at least until 2022, when the border reopening is tentatively scheduled.
Westacott said Australia’s stimulus package should take a phased approach and allow more skilled international workers to fill vacancies as vaccination rates rise.
“We cannot wait until 2022 to have skilled workers in the country,” she said, adding that such a delay means that “Australia’s ability to accelerate is slowing down, but it also means that companies just don’t do things here. “
Slow vaccine deployment
The mixed messages around the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Australian government and the advisory board that advises the Minister of Health on vaccine issues in the country have been “really problematic,” according to Archie Clements, pro vice chancellor of the faculty of science. health at Curtin University.
“If you look at the vaccine rollout statistics, the rate of vaccine increase slowed through June and I think that’s largely due to the mixed messages around AstraZeneca,” he said on Monday. to CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia”.
The Australian Immunization Technical Advisory Group prefers that people under the age of 60 receive the Pfizer vaccine – which is in short supply – to avoid the risk of an extremely rare blood clotting disorder from the use of D injections. ‘AstraZeneca. The government, meanwhile, says such people can opt for AstraZeneca after consulting their doctor.
“The federal government should have supported AstraZeneca very strongly from the start, really should have promoted it. It’s a very safe vaccine,” Clements said, noting that only a tiny number of people had a severe reaction to the shot. . .
“We should encourage everyone to get vaccinated and take whatever vaccine is available to them, whether it is AstraZeneca or Pfizer,” he said.