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Man flees Australian Covid quarantine using a bed sheet

By Julia Hollingsworth, CNN

A 39-year-old man allegedly used a rope made from bed sheets to shimmy down from a fourth floor hotel room and flee Australian quarantine, police said.

The man arrived in Western Australia from Brisbane on Monday afternoon, but didn’t meet the exemption requirements needed to enter the state, which currently has strict border rules in place, according to a statement from the Western Australia Police Force.

The man was told to leave Western Australia within 48 hours and was sent to a quarantine hotel overnight. The man allegedly made a getaway after midnight, but was caught Tuesday morning and charged with failure to comply with a direction and providing false information.

The man tested negative for Covid-19, police said.

The bold escape comes as Australia is struggling to contain a local outbreak of the Delta variant that began on June 16 with a limousine driver from Bondi, Sydney, who transported international flight crew. Now hundreds of cases are being reported in New South Wales (NSW) each week, with a handful of cases in neighboring states Victoria and South Australia.

More than half of Australia’s 26 million population are in lockdown in those three states, and restrictions have been imposed elsewhere to stop the spread.

Australia’s borders have been closed since last year to almost all non-Australians, and even those allowed into the country must pay thousands of dollars to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel. Spaces in the state-run quarantine hotels are limited, so fewer tickets are being sold for international flights. Thousands of Australians have complained that they have been shut out of the country.

But while border security has been tight, Australia has been slow to vaccinate its population. Just 11% of the population are fully vaccinated, according to CNN’s Covid vaccine tracker, significantly lower than the United Kingdom, where 53% are fully vaccinated, or the United States, where 48% are vaccinated.

That meant when the fast-spreading Delta variant, which was first detected in India, was found in Australia, there was little protection from vaccines.

Australia initially planned to vaccinate most of its population with the AstraZeneca vaccine, but later only recommended the dose for people aged over 60 due to concerns over blood clots.

Australians under 60 are advised to get the Pfizer vaccine, but to date supplies have been limited. Another one million Pfizer doses arrived in the country earlier this week, but people aged under 40 still haven’t been offered the vaccine under the official program.

That’s causing concern in states where Delta poses a threat. Health officials are contact tracing and ordering people who may have been exposed to the virus to self-isolate and get tested.

On Wednesday, NSW authorities said they had found 110 cases after testing a record 83,477 samples over the past 24 hours.

“Please do not leave your home unless you have to,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

“This is really serious. We have done well to stem the growth that other countries have seen around the world with the Delta strain. We have stopped the thousands and thousand of cases that other countries around the world have had. Our vaccination rates are so low, and yet we’ve done really well in stemming the growth of the virus.”

“What we need to do now is quash it, because with the vaccination rates the way they are, we won’t be able to live freely and safely unless we’re able to quash this current outbreak,” she said.

Greater Sydney is expected to remain in lockdown beyond July, and on Tuesday Victoria’s lockdown was extended for another seven days.

The state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the Delta variant was more infectious and moving faster than Australia’s previous outbreaks.

“We will not take the risk of opening up too soon.”

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