Fri, 24 Sep 2021

SYDNEY, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) -- Construction workers in the Australian state of Victoria are being targeted in a vaccination blitz as the state government battles to contain its soaring number of COVID-19 cases.

Victoria reported 445 new locally acquired infections on Tuesday, bringing the overall active cases to 3,799.

Throughout the pandemic, Victoria has endured more frequent and lengthier lockdowns than any other Australian region. The state capital of Melbourne has been the hardest hit of all, so far racking up almost 230 days in lockdown since early 2020. Yet the city's condition is still steadily deteriorating.

Health authorities desperate to track sources of the virus are now concentrating their efforts on building sites, which account for about 13 percent of the active cases.

Exacerbating the problem is that construction workers tend to travel longer distances than other workers meaning they have even greater potential to transmit the disease.

In response, the Victorian government has begun a four-week enforcement blitz to ensure workers comply with COVID-19 health requirements, such as mandatory mask wearing, and urging them to get vaccinated.

Speaking on Monday, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said, "it doesn't take much for this highly infectious Delta variant to get from a highly mobile, younger, under-vaccinated workforce into outer suburbs, into the families and communities of those suburbs."

"We'll do everything we can to ensure the construction industry can continue in a COVID-safe way," Foley said. "But the entire industry -- employers, unions -- are on notice."

Workers caught breaking COVID-19 regulations face on-the-spot fines of up to 1,817 Australian dollars (about 1,339 U.S. dollars), while building businesses will be out of pocket for up to 10,904 Australian dollars (about 8,035 U.S. dollars).

The state government also wants to encourage construction workers to get vaccinated by allowing them to get their jabs, without bookings, at four large vaccination centres. That offer will continue until Sept. 26.

Aside from generally being more mobile than most workers, builders and tradesmen tend to be young.

Foley said the outbreak was a "pandemic of the young and the unvaccinated" with 87 percent of Victoria's active cases being aged under 50, with 585 aged under 19.

Nationally, the Delta strain has disproportionately affected younger people, with the Australian government reporting the highest number of cases has been among those aged from 20 to 29.

Meanwhile, the epicentre of Australia's outbreak continues to be the state of New South Wales (NSW), which recorded 1,127 new locally acquired cases in the 24 hours up to 8:00 p.m. local time Monday.

Overall, the number of cases in NSW has snowballed to 39,954 since the first case was discovered in the capital city of Sydney on June 16. There have since been 186 related deaths, including two in the latest statistics.

Amid the grim daily update, the NSW government announced on Tuesday a range of financial support packages worth 287.5 million Australian dollars (about 211.66 million U.S. dollars) for its beleaguered populace.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the funds would assist workers and vulnerable people under financial strain due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

"The expansion of the emergency hardship payment will provide assistance to people across all of NSW who are under severe financial strain but are not eligible for other support payments and grants," Barilaro said.

"Grants for culturally and linguistically diverse groups have also been expanded to connect multicultural communities with essential services throughout the pandemic."

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