Australian Prime Minister hints at ending ‘COVID zero’ amid protests and record infections

(CNN) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison alluded to the end of the country’s zero Covid-19 infection strategy in an opinion piece published on Sunday, warning Australians to expect an increase in infections as restrictions grow. relax.

Morrison’s article comes as Sydney, Australia’s largest city, recorded 830 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, its highest number of new daily infections to date, despite strict containment since the end of June.

Australia has been one of many countries, including China and New Zealand, that have attempted to eradicate Covid-19 completely within their borders, and until recently the strategy had been largely successful. To date, Australia has only registered 44,026 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 981 deaths.

But several major Australian cities, including Sydney, Melbourne and the capital Canberra, are on lockdown as authorities struggle to contain an outbreak of the Covid-19 Delta variant.

Thousands of Australians took to the streets of Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday to protest the long lockdowns, resulting in hundreds of arrests. At least seven police officers were injured in violent clashes.

In his opinion piece published on on Sunday, Morrison said he recognized the “heavy toll” stringent coronavirus prevention measures have taken on Australian citizens and businesses, but said he was “the darkest before dawn”.

“(The lockdowns) are unfortunately needed for now, and we’ll continue to provide health and income support to get people through, but they won’t be needed for too long,” he said.

Morrison said the Australian government intends to move from reducing the number of cases to examining the number of people seriously ill due to Covid-19 and requiring hospitalization.

“After all, this is how we deal with all other infectious diseases,” the Australian leader said, adding that the country’s public health system is now strong enough to cope with an increase in coronavirus cases.

Although Morrison did not give a strict timeline for the implementation of the new strategy, he said that once Australia has met its national immunization targets of 70% and 80%, “we can start. to claim what Covid has taken from us ”.

“This is what it is about living with Covid. The number of cases will likely increase when we start opening up soon. It is inevitable,” he said.

Morrison’s approach contrasts sharply with neighboring New Zealand. On August 12, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a plan to provisionally reopen to vaccinated travelers from low-risk countries from early 2022, but said she did not want to see large outbreaks of the virus in New Zealand. -Zeeland.

“The number one principle will remain … maintaining our elimination strategy to eradicate the virus, so that we can maintain our hard-earned gains and keep our options open,” she said at the time.

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