Faster-than-expected vaccine uptake helps Melbourne exit lockdown

SYDNEY Melbourne, Australia's second-biggest city, will exit months of a Covid-19 lockdown ahead of schedule next week, helped by a faster-than-expected vaccine uptake, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday, even though daily infections hit a record the same day.

In the worst day of an outbreak of the Delta variant coronavirus that began in early August, Victoria logged 2,297 new cases yesterday, up from 1,571 the day before and the highest for any Australian state or territory since the pandemic began.

Eleven people died, bringing the toll in the latest outbreak to 125.

But the surge comes as Victoria also nears the 70 per cent threshold for double-dose vaccination among eligible adults - the level at which the authorities have promised to end strict stay-home restrictions.

That target was originally expected to be met on Oct 26, and the vaccination level was 62 per cent yesterday.

"We will deliver the (reopening) road map... You get vaccinated and we will open up and I do what I say," Mr Andrews said during a media briefing in Melbourne.

Most new cases were detected in Melbourne, but the city's night curfew will also be lifted, while businesses can reopen with strict social distancing rules, according to the roadmap.

More curbs will be relaxed when vaccination levels reach 80 per cent and 90 per cent.

Sydney, where the first case was detected in mid-June, continued a downward trend in new cases.

Daily infections in New South Wales eased further to 406 yesterday - the majority in Sydney - well down from the state's pandemic high of 1,599 hit early last month.

As Sydney and Melbourne begin to live with Covid-19, some virus-free states have flagged they may delay their reopening plans even after higher vaccinations amid fears outbreaks could overwhelm hospitals.

The Delta variant has accounted for about 77 per cent of the country's 136,000 cases.

Total deaths stand at 1,495. - REUTERS