Australia will cut the number of overseas arrivals by half amid outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant and fears its coronavirus hotel quarantine system could crumble under pressure, prime minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
The new restrictions on travel were announced as Delta variant cases soared in in several cities across the country, including Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Darwin, Townsville and the Gold Coast.
Nearly half of Australia's population - 12 million - are currently under lockdown, with recent infections traced to leaks in hotel quarantine.
Morrison said Australia will now only accept about 3,000 international travellers from overseas per week.
After meeting the country's national cabinet, Morrison spoke of a four-phase plan to reopen Australia after lockdowns.
" Our mindset on managing COVID-19 has to change once you move from pre-vaccination to post-vaccination. That's the deal for Australians," Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
He said the four-phased approach could give fully vaccinated people more freedoms, including a shorter quarantine period after arriving from overseas.
Public health leaders have criticised Australia's sluggish vaccine rollout, which has been mired in confusion and frustration due to frequent changes in medical advice for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Under 7 per cent of its 25 million people are fully vaccinated, according to recent estimates.
New South Wales (NSW) capital Sydney, Australia's largest city and home to a fifth of the country's 25 million population, is halfway through a two-week lockdown imposed in a bid to contain the Delta variant.
Thirty-one local cases were reported in NSW on Friday, so far the highest daily rise in cases during the latest outbreak and for 2021. Since the first case was detected more than two weeks ago, total infections have grown to more than 200.
Includes reporting from Reuters