Australia is to halve the number of people allowed into the country each week in a bid to ease pressure on its hotel quarantine system as the country faces several outbreaks linked to the Delta variant.
Following a meeting with state and territory leaders on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed his intention to exit the pandemic as well as the new limits on international arrivals.
As of July 14, Australia plans to accept 3,035 international arrivals each week, up from 6,070 previously. Sydney, the most populous city, will retain the most generous allowance of 1,505 weekly arrivals.
“This is the Delta variant,” Morrison said at a press conference Friday. “The Delta strain is more contagious and therefore we are looking to take precautionary measures to reduce the risk overall.”
State and territory leaders have agreed to a four-phase plan that will guide the country’s exit from the pandemic, but Morrison has given no clear indication of the timeline.
Australia is in the first phase, during which blockages will only be used as a last resort.
As closures in parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory end on Friday, Sydney and surrounding areas are about halfway through a two-week stay-at-home amid a growing number of outbreaks linked to the Delta variant that have sprung up across the city.
Phase two will not begin until everyone has access to the vaccine and a vaccination target, which remains to be determined, has been met. Some restrictions for vaccinated residents should be relaxed during this phase.
Entering phase three means the end of lockdowns and the easing of restrictions for vaccinated travelers, while phase four represents a return to normalcy.
John Frewen, Australia’s head of the vaccination campaign, said on Friday that 1.7 million of the country’s 25 million people were fully vaccinated and 6.2 million, or 30% of the population, had received at least one injection.