A person trains at the Sydney Opera House during a foggy start to the day on June 30, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. Lockdown restrictions continue as NSW health officials work to contain a growing Covid-19 cluster.
Brook Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images
A recent spike in Covid cases has led Australian authorities to scramble to contain the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India.
The country has weathered the coronavirus pandemic relatively better than most, with fewer than 31,000 total cases due to strict social distancing rules, border restrictions, contract tracking and bans.
Several major cities were locked down last week, including Sydney – the capital of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales and home to more than five million people.
On Monday, New South Wales reported 35 new local cases as authorities crack down on individuals and businesses for violating restrictions. The state’s Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian reportedly warned that the situation over the next few days would determine whether the two-week lockdown in Sydney is extended beyond July 9.
Last week, Australia’s national cabinet agreed to cut the number of international travelers allowed to enter the country until July 14 in half as part of a four-step reconstruction plan. With a few exceptions, foreigners are usually denied entry.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a testing program would allow some vaccinated travelers to self-isolate at home to ease 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 Cabinet estimates. The next three phases would be re-vaccination, consolidation and finally the reopening of the borders.
The federal recovery plan requires more precision, which would provide more security to Australian companies looking to reopen, said Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council of Australia.
“We need some really clear goals. We need a really clear threshold. We need this to be realistic, ”she said on Monday in CNBC’s“ Squawk Box Asia ”.
“Companies can start planning. Airlines can start planning. Small businesses can start planning. We need a little more precision, ”she added.
Many companies, including farmers, rely on international workers. Longer border closings mean that there will be a labor shortage at least until 2022 if the borders are to be reopened for the time being.
Westacott said Australia’s recovery plan should take a phased approach, allowing more skilled international workers to fill vacancies as vaccination rates rise.
“We can’t wait for skilled workers to come into the country in 2022,” she said, adding that such a delay means that Australia’s “capacity to ramp up is slowing, but also that companies are just doing nothing here”.
Slow introduction of vaccines
Mixed messages around the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Australian government and the advisory council that advises the country’s health minister on vaccine issues have been “really problematic,” according to Archie Clements, vice-rector of the Faculty of Health at Curtin University.
“If you look at vaccine adoption statistics, the rate of vaccine growth slowed down through June, and I think that’s mainly because of the mixed messages around AstraZeneca,” he told CNBC on Monday to Street Signs Asia .
The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization 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 bleeding disorder associated with the use of AstraZeneca syringes. The government, meanwhile, says these people can choose AstraZeneca after consulting their doctors.
“The federal government should have been very supportive of AstraZeneca from the start, really should have sponsored it. It’s a very safe vaccine,” said Clements, pointing out that only a tiny number of people had severe reactions to the vaccine.
“We should encourage everyone to get vaccinated and take whatever vaccine they have, whether it’s AstraZeneca or Pfizer,” he said.