Australia locks in virus vaccine deal as new cases ease

A sign points toward the entrance of a Covid-19 drive-through testing facility in Melbourne, Australia August 18, 2020. — AAP Image via Reuters
A sign points toward the entrance of a Covid-19 drive-through testing facility in Melbourne, Australia August 18, 2020. — AAP Image via Reuters

SYDNEY, Aug 19 — A fresh outbreak of infections in Australia's coronavirus hot zone of Victoria appeared to have eased today, as the country signed a deal to secure a potential Covid-19 vaccine that it intends to roll out free of cost to its citizens.

Australia has signed a deal with British drugmaker AstraZeneca to produce and distribute enough doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine for its population of 25 million, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said late yesterday.

All Australians will be offered doses but a medical panel will determine the priority list of vaccine recipients, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“Naturally you would be focusing on the most vulnerable, the elderly, health workers, people with disabilities in terms of the speed of roll out, but I think there would be widespread uptake in Australia,” Hunt told Sky News yesterday.

AstraZeneca last month said good data was coming in so far on its vaccine for Covid-19, already in large-scale human trials and widely seen as the front-runner in the race for a shot against the novel coronavirus.

The vaccine, called AZD1222, was developed by Britain's University of Oxford and licensed to AstraZeneca.

A flare up in infections in Australia's second most populous state of Victoria forced authorities two weeks ago to impose a nightly curfew, tighten restrictions on people's movements and order large parts of the state's economy to close.

The southeastern state has seen a slowdown in new cases in recent days, allaying fears of a nationwide second wave of infections.

Victoria reported 216 new daily cases in the last 24 hours compared with 222 a day earlier. It reported 12 deaths compared with 17 on Tuesday.

Despite seeing a surge of new infections in the past month, Australia has largely avoided the high casualties of other nations with just under 24,000 infections and 450 deaths from the virus. — Reuters

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