By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s Victoria state on Thursday reported a jump of more than 50% in daily COVID-19 cases, which authorities largely blame on Australian Rules Football parties last weekend that breached pandemic regulations.
State capital Melbourne traditionally hosts the annual grand final which the football-obsessed city celebrates with a long weekend.
Because of Melbourne’s lockdown, two Melbourne teams played for the national premiership on Saturday in the coronavirus-free west coast city of Perth.
Contact tracers found a third of Victoria’s 1,438 new infections reported on Thursday had broken pandemic rules by attending social gatherings on the Friday public holiday and on game day, officials said.
Jeroen Weimar, commander of Victoria’s COVID-19 response, said time would tell whether the infection jump was “one big rogue day” or part of a grave new trend.
“Today highlights the consequence of hundreds of people dropping their guards, dropping their guard for very understandable reasons and we’re all fed up with it,” Weimar said, referring to Melbourne’s lockdown.
“But this is a direct consequence of hundreds of decisions made on Friday and Saturday last week and the question now is how we manage this going forward,” he added.
Melbourne’s lockdown is set to end on Oct. 26 when 70% of the state’s population aged 16 and older is expected to be fully vaccinated. Residents are becoming increasingly frustrated by the city’s sixth lockdown of the pandemic.
Australia’s second-most populous city will overtake Argentine’s capital Buenos Aires next week as the city that has endured the longest lockdown in the world, Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper has reported. Buenos Aires stay-at-home orders lasted 245 days.
Victoria’s infection rate has overtaken neighboring New South Wales where the spread in Sydney has plateaued with a rapidly increasing vaccination coverage.
New South Wales reported 941 infections on Thursday and six deaths. The vaccination rate has also accelerated, with 63% of its target population fully vaccinated according to government data, since the Australian delta variant outbreak was first detected in Sydney on June 16.
Only 49% of Victoria’s target population were fully vaccinated, partly because the state has delayed second doses to make more vaccine available for first doses.
Victoria on Thursday reported five COVID-19 deaths in the latest 24-hour period. The state on Wednesday reported 950 new infections and seven deaths, which were both daily records.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said his government remained determined to end lockdowns in Australia despite the worsening situation in Melbourne.
Frydenberg, a Melbourne resident, said the city had become despondent due to lockdowns, the latest beginning on Aug. 5.
“Melbourne tragically and sadly has gone from being the most livable city in the world to the most locked down city in the world,” he said, referring to an Economist Intelligence Unit index that ranked the city at the top of its livability table for seven consecutive years until 2017.
The government has said its payments to workers who had lost hours due to lockdowns would end two weeks after 80% of a state or territory’s target population were fully vaccinated.
Frydenberg said such payments were costing his government 1.5 billion Australian dollars ($1.1 billion) a week.
State and territory leaders agreed in July that lockdowns would no longer be necessary after the 80% vaccination benchmark had been reached.
But with the delta variant stretching hospital resources in Sydney and Melbourne, some leaders have suggested they might maintain border restrictions until 90% of their populations are fully vaccinated.
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