Australia reports record Covid-19 cases as Sydney hospitals set up emergency tents

Sydney, the country’s largest city and the epicenter of the current outbreak, is struggling to stem an increase in the fast-spreading Delta variant, with daily infections reaching record levels even after two months of lockdown.

The state of New South Wales (NSW), of which Sydney is the capital, reported 1,029 new locally acquired cases, surpassing the previous record of 919 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 969 were detected in greater Sydney, compared to 838.

The rapid rise in the number of Covid-19 patients has forced Sydney’s Westmead and Blacktown hospitals, which serve the city’s vast western suburbs, to erect tents to screen and dab patients to help manage capacity.

The emergency department’s makeshift unit for Covid-19 patients will help “tackle the delays,” a spokesperson for the local health district in Western Sydney told Reuters.

State Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said authorities quadrupled the number of intensive care ventilators in the state to 2,000 early last year. Although the system is “under pressure,” it can withstand the current crisis once vaccination rates rise, she said.

“It may be different from the help you received before due to the situation, but please know that the system is kicking in,” Berejiklian said at a televised press conference.

Of 116 people in intensive care in NSW, 102 are not vaccinated. Three new deaths have been reported, including a man in his 30s who died at home, bringing the death toll from the latest outbreak to 79, although the death rate has slowed since last year.

In a video posted to Twitter on Wednesday evening, the Australian Paramedic Association said paramedics had the choice of waiting in their vehicles with infected people or “waiting outside in the freezing rain” due to the increase the number of patients.

The fast-evolving Delta strain has overshadowed Australia’s early successes against the virus which kept its coronavirus count relatively low, with some 47,700 cases and 989 deaths. About 32% of people over 16 have been fully immunized while just over 54% have received at least one dose.

Besides Sydney, the country’s second largest city, Melbourne, and the capital, Canberra, are also under strict restrictions, placing more than half of the country’s 25 million people under strict stay-at-home orders.

Cases in Victoria, home of Melbourne, rose to 80 on Thursday, from 45 a day earlier.

The federal government is continuing plans to reopen the country once vaccination rates reach 70-80%, but some states have hinted they may delay given the rapid growth of cases in Sydney.

Berejiklian said NSW could reach 70% full vaccines by mid-October, and Qantas airline said it was preparing for the resumption of international travel in December.

Also on Thursday, the Woolworths Group grocer reported an increase in annual profits as the closures triggered demand for essential household items.

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