Australia and New Zealand have received their first Covid-19 vaccine deliveries and will begin rolling out inoculations in the coming week.
“The Eagle has landed,” Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Australia’s capital Canberra on Monday as the first shipment of 142,000 doses of the vaccine developed by US company Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech touched down, reports Reuters.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the first batch of 60,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines had arrived and would undergo safety checks before border workers start receiving vaccinations from Saturday.
“This will be the largest full-scale vaccination campaign in this country’s history,” Ardern said. “We have purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free. That includes all those in New Zealand regardless of their visa status.”
Both countries have lockdowns in place in major cities.
New Zealand authorities are investigating how a strain of the highly transmissible UK variant was found in three members of an Auckland family.
In Australia, Victoria state health officials are similarly investigating a cluster which emerged from a quarantine hotel in Melbourne. The cluster reported one new case on Monday, the mother of a three-year-old child, taking the total cases there to 17.
Melbourne’s six million residents are required to stay home except for essential shopping and work, caregiving and outdoor exercise. The premier of Victoria said it was too early to say if the five-day lockdown would end as planned on Wednesday evening.
The Australian Open tennis tournament, being held in Melbourne until Feb 21, is not allowing spectators until the end of the lockdown.
In New Zealand, Auckland’s nearly two million residents were plunged into a new three-day lockdown on Sunday, prompting Australia to suspend a travel bubble with New Zealand.
Auckland’s lockdown is the first in six months for New Zealand, after a hard shutdown early in the pandemic appeared to have largely eliminated local transmission.
New Zealand was ranked the best performing nation among almost 100 in an index by Australia’s Lowy Institute based on containment of the coronavirus.
Australia came in at number 10 as border closures and lockdowns in both countries successfully contained the spread.
New Zealand has reported 2,330 confirmed and probable cases since the start of the pandemic, including 25 deaths. That compares to under 29,000 cases and 909 deaths in Australia.