Australia reported 2,417 new covid-19 cases on Thursday, the highest number of new cases in the country for any single day of the entire pandemic. The majority of cases were in the country’s second largest state of Victoria, which accounted for 1,438 new cases, despite being in a hard lockdown since August 5.
Australia, which fared relatively well during most of the pandemic, has suffered in recent months through a botched vaccine rollout and often incompetent leadership. The nation of 25 million has seen a relatively low 105,131 covid-19 cases and 1,290 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but that could change dramatically if Australia doesn’t pick up its vaccination rate.
As recently as June, just 3% of Australians were fully vaccinated. Today, only 54.2% of Australians 16 years and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the Australian Department of Health, while 77.8% have had at least one dose.
The surge in covid-19 cases on Thursday is being directly tied to last weekend’s big sporting event, the AFL Grand Final, roughly the equivalent of the Super Bowl in Australia, except it’s Australian-rules football rather than American football. But people who attended the event aren’t even to blame, because it was held in Western Australia, a state that hasn’t had a serious covid-19 outbreak since 2020. Instead, the surge is being blamed on people in covid-ravaged Victoria congregating for parties during the holiday weekend.
Health officials in Victoria report that roughly a third of the state’s 1,438 new cases on Thursday are from people getting together in households over the long weekend. And this isn’t just a guess. Australia’s contact tracing teams are still doing their best to track down each new case of infection, providing reliable data on how many people are getting the disease.
“If you decided to go to a Grand Final party on Saturday, if you went to a barbecue on Friday, I’d like you to go and get tested. Because you don’t know whether someone there was harbouring the virus,” Victoria’s top covid-19 official, Jeroen Weimar, said at a press conference on Thursday.
Australia’s pandemic response has been largely led by the country’s individual state governments after the federal government, led by conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, took a hands off approach to control of the disease in 2020. But that state-led approach means different parts of the country have experienced the pandemic in wildly different ways.
Victoria, home to the second largest city of Melbourne, has shown one of the most aggressive stances against covid-19, instituting hard lockdowns that meant residents could only leave their homes for a handful of reasons, including exercise, buying food, and getting medical care. Victoria’s hard lockdowns after covid-19 cases popped up seemed to work at eradicating the disease until the Delta variant of covid-19 showed up and the lockdowns only managed to keep cases from overwhelming the hospitals, not getting rid of covid-19 completely.
The state of Victoria typically holds the AFL Grand Final event but it was moved to Perth, Western Australia in order to have a covid-free event. Australia has six states and two territories, but the two largest states, New South Wales and Victoria, are the only places with uncontrolled covid-19 outbreaks. Other states and territories have closed their borders to New South Wales and Victoria, only allowing people to arrive from those places with special exemptions and proof of vaccination.
Ironically, Victoria slightly eased its hard lockdown on Wednesday after hitting a vaccine target with 80% or eligible residents getting at least one dose. The “relaxed” restrictions mean that boating, tennis, and golf are now allowed and people can travel 15 kilometres away from their home to shop for food, up from 10 kilometres.
Australians are being promised an end to lockdowns in most of the country by Christmas, but it’s still unclear where that leaves the states that are currently covid-free. Whatever the outcome, most Australians are simply tired of it all, much like the rest of the world. We’re all ready to move on from the pandemic, but the pandemic doesn’t seem to be ready to move on from us without high vaccination rates. And anti-vax idiots in every country are keeping the dream of constant death alive. Good work, anti-vax idiots.