Australia’s coronavirus daily cases have reached 1900 for the first time during the pandemic with numbers in NSW set to peak next week.
The record increase was driven by 1542 new infections across NSW, but Sydney remains the outbreak’s epicentre.
Victoria reported an outbreak-high 334 new cases, while there were 24 in Canberra.
Despite Sydney’s crisis driving hospitalisations higher and leading to another nine deaths, the NSW government is pursuing its freshly revealed reopening strategy.
All fully vaccinated people will be offered a suite of freedoms when double-dose coverage hits 70 per cent.
That’s put heat on the Victorian government to follow suit with a road map out of Melbourne’s lockdown linked to vaccination rates.
There is a national agreement to reduce the chances of lockdowns at 70 per cent and only use highly targeted restrictions at 80 per cent.
But it has been the subject of fierce political debate with some leaders keen to protect their state’s virus-free status.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said border restrictions would increasingly amount to “lockouts” when other states opened.
“You can’t stay locked away forever. If not 80 per cent then when? 85? 90? 95?” he told 2GB radio.
“Lockdowns and lockouts once you get above that 80 per cent vaccination rate, they do more harm than good.”
But he ruled out withholding infrastructure or GST funding from Western Australia or other hardline states because it would punish people.
“There seems to be this fantasy that there’s some how a lever I can pull here which makes the states conform to a federal policy.”
The prime minister believes immunisation rates in the west will rise rapidly once people see freedom to travel on the other side of the country.
Australia has fully vaccinated 41.1 per cent of its population aged 16 and above, while 66.1 per cent have received a first dose.
There are 1156 people in NSW hospitals, with 207 in intensive care.
Of Victoria’s 127 people in hospital, 33 are in intensive care.
With cases rising in both states there are concerns about the capacity of the health system to cope when vaccination coverage targets linked to reopening are reached.
Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations chair Jane Halton said vaccines would help prevent hospitalisations.
“It does not mean we will see no hospitalisations, it does not mean we will see no death in that group but it will be so tiny as a proportion that, really, we do not have to worry about it,” she told the ABC.
Mr Morrison returned home to Sydney from Canberra on Friday to work under stay-at-home conditions.
“It is expected the prime minister will need to travel to Canberra mid next week for security-related briefings that are required to be undertaken in person,” a spokesman said.