CANBERRA, March 31 (Reuters) -Australia has fallen far behind its target for COVID-19 vaccinations, figures showed on Wednesday, with only about 670,000 people inoculated against an initial target of 4 million by end-March.
The slow roll-out, which puts Australia behind many other developed countries, has been blamed by the government on supply issues from Europe, while recent floods across the east coast have slowed the delivery of vaccines.
State governments have also complained about slower-than-expected distribution and a lack of certainty on supplies, while local media have reported errors by private contractors hired to assist with the roll-out.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday, however, pointed to a record 72,826 vaccinations on Tuesday, which he said showed the inoculation programme was accelerating following the start of domestic production of the AstraZeneca vaccine by Australian biotech company CSL Ltd.
“We remain on track to complete first doses for all Australians who seek it by the end of October,” he told a media conference.
Australia has largely curtailed the spread of the coronavirus, with snap lockdowns, border closures and speedy tracking systems, reporting just under 29,300 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths.
However, health officials conceded the slow vaccination pace means the risk of another wave of cases has not diminished.
“We are in a situation where we are at as high a risk as we have been since the beginning of the pandemic,” Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Tuesday.
The missed target comes as an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in Queensland state has led to a snap three-day lockdown of its capital Brisbane, throwing Easter holiday plans for thousands in disarray.
Queensland on Wednesday said it had detected only two new local cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, fuelling some optimism that a three-day snap lockdown in state capital Brisbane will be lifted on Thursday.
More than two million residents of Australia’s third-largest city have been asked to stay home as authorities try to contain two distinct virus clusters, now comprising 17 cases.
New South Wales state reported one new local case linked to the Queensland outbreak on Wednesday, prompting new restrictions and the cancellation of a major blues music festival over Easter.