Australia has recorded its 1,000th death from the pandemic, as it struggles to contain Delta variant outbreaks.
The country’s 1,003 Covid deaths is a lower total than most other advanced nations, due in particular to its early success in suppressing the virus.
But Australia is now seeing its worst case numbers since the pandemic began.
A recent surge in infections in Sydney has challenged Australia’s response strategy and strained health resources.
On Monday, New South Wales state – of which Sydney is capital – reported four new deaths and another daily record of 1,218 cases.
Authorities warned that death and hospitalisation rates would increase into October, even as more people got vaccinated.
More than half of Australians are in lockdown after outbreaks in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
Lengthy lockdowns and a rapid rise in vaccinations has intensified debate over when states and the nation should reopen.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week stepped away from the country’s previous zero-Covid strategy.
He has called for the nation to begin easing restrictions when 70% of adults, or just over half of the general population, is vaccinated.
“We cannot live in this cave forever,” he told parliament last week, referring to the multiple city lockdowns and closed state borders.
But critics and some medical experts oppose Mr Morrison’s targets, arguing they could endanger lives if restrictions are eased too early.
The government’s plan is based on modelling from the Doherty Institute, which shows if society reopened at a 70% vaccination rate, there would be an estimated 1,500 deaths and 389,000 cases in six months.
Australia’s National Cabinet – which includes state leaders – agreed to the plan “in principle” in July.
But now some state premiers argue the modelling did not account for an escalation in Sydney’s Delta wave. Western Australia and Queensland have voiced most concern.
Those two states – along with South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory – have Covid rates at zero or near to zero, after sealing off their borders.
On current vaccination rates it’s estimated that Australia could reach the 70% mark by mid-November.
Currently, about 34% of adult Australians are vaccinated, while 57% have received a first dose.