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Australia is to halve the number of people allowed into the country each week in an effort to ease pressure on its hotel quarantine system as the country deals with several outbreaks linked to the Delta variant.

Following a meeting with state and territory leaders on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed plans to exit the pandemic alongside the new caps on international arrivals.

From July 14, Australia plans to accept 3,035 international arrivals each week, down from the previous limit of 6,070. Sydney, the most populous city, will retain the most generous allowance of 1,505 weekly arrivals.

“It’s about the Delta variant,” Morrison said at a news conference on Friday. “The Delta strain is more contagious and so we’re seeking to take precautionary steps to overall reduce the risk.”

State and territory leaders have agreed to a four-phase plan that will guide the country’s exit from the pandemic, but Morrison gave no clear indication about the timeline.

Australia is in phase one, during which lockdowns will be used only as a last resort.

While lockdowns in some parts of Queensland and the Northern Territory end on Friday, Sydney and its surrounding regions are about halfway through a two-week stay at home order due to a growing number of outbreaks linked to the Delta variant that have sprung up across the city.

Phase two will not start until everyone has access to the vaccine and a vaccination target, which is yet to be decided upon, is hit. Some restrictions for vaccinated residents are expected to be eased in this phase.

Entering the third phase means no more lockdowns and the easing of restrictions for vaccinated travellers, while phase four represents a return to normal.

John Frewen, Australia’s head of the vaccination campaign, said on Friday that 1.7m of the country’s 25m residents were fully vaccinated and 6.2m, or 30 per cent of the population, have received at least one shot.

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