Australian authorities on Wednesday extended the COVID-19 lockdown in Melbourne for another three weeks, as they shift their focus to rapid vaccination drives and move away from a suppression strategy to bring cases down to zero.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged a staggered easing of the tough restrictions once 70% of the state’s adult residents receive at least one dose, a milestone he hopes to reach at least by Sept. 23, based on current vaccination rates.

“We have thrown everything at this, but it is now clear to us that we are not going to drive these numbers down, they are instead going to increase,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne, the state capital, after a lockdown for nearly a month failed to quell the outbreak. The lockdown was due to end on Thursday.

“We got to buy time to allow vaccinations to be undertaken all the while doing this very hard work, this very painful and difficult work, to keep a lid as much as we can on cases.”

New local cases jumped to 120 in Victoria from 76 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 100 have spent time in the community while infectious.

Neighbouring New South Wales state, home to Sydney, on Wednesday brought forward its target date to fully vaccinate 70% of people above 16 to the middle of next month from the initial target of the end of October, as outbreaks spurred a surge in inoculation.

victoria remains in lockdown due to increase in covid 19 infections

Victoria, Australia, 31 August 2021. Victoria will remain in lockdown after recording the highest number of new daily local COVID-19 cases in the state in almost a year. EPA-EFE/DANIEL POCKETT AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

“No matter where you live, life will be much, much better, much freer, as long as you’re vaccinated at 70%,” Berejiklian told reporters. So far 37% are fully vaccinated in the state, while 67% have had at least one dose, slightly higher than the national numbers.

A total of 1,116 new cases were detected in New South Wales, down from 1,164 a day earlier. NSW reported four new deaths taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 100.

LIVING WITH COVID

Australia is trying to get a handle on the third wave of infections that has locked down more than half of its 25 million population. Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and capital Canberra are in weeks-long strict stay-at-home orders.

Despite the recent flare-ups, it has managed to keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just over 55,000 cases and 1,012 deaths.

The federal government is pressing the states and territories to stick to a national reopening plan once vaccination rates reach 70%-80% although some virus-free states said they may delay given the rapidly rising Sydney cases.

Berejiklian said New South Wales will open to international travellers when vaccinations reach 80% and that she may allow people residing in other states to fly into Sydney, even if other states decide against opening up their borders.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged the state’s leaders to follow the national reopening plans.

“Stick to the plan … a plan that allows businesses to reopen and plan for their own future … a plan that takes Australia forward to living safely with the virus,” Frydenberg said.

people venture out as coronavirus disease (covid 19) curbs ease in most regions

People queue up for takeaway food as the nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown eases in Wellington, New Zealand, September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Praveen Menon

New Zealanders on Wednesday visited beaches and queued for takeaway food as tough lockdown measures enforced to beat an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus were eased for most of the country.

About 1.7 million people in the largest city Auckland still remain in strict level 4 lockdown for another two weeks, but restrictions for the remainder of the country were loosened.

Surfers and kayakers were seen heading to the beaches in droves, local media reports said, while other outdoor recreation facilities like golf courses were busy again.

People started lining up from early morning as takeaway food outlets reopened after being shut for two weeks, while construction activity resumed and large hardware stores opened for click and collect purchases.

However, schools and offices remained shut nationwide and businesses can only provide contactless services.

Except for a small number of cases in February, New Zealand was largely coronavirus-free until the outbreak of the Delta variant prompted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to order a snap nationwide lockdown on Aug. 17.

The country reported 75 new cases of COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, up from 49 a day earlier. Of those, 74 were in Auckland and one was a household contact in Wellington. The total cases from the current outbreak rose to 687, nearly all in Auckland.

“The latest bounce in numbers is not unexpected,” the Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said at a news conference, adding it was still below the peak daily number.

Ardern’s lockdowns, along with closing the international border from March 2020, have been credited with reining in COVID-19 allowing the country to live largely without restrictions.

However, the government now faces questions over a delayed vaccine rollout, as well as rising costs in a country heavily reliant on an immigrant workforce.

Just over a quarter of the population has been fully vaccinated so far, the slowest pace among the wealthy nations of the OECD grouping.