Australia is moving into a new phase in its pandemic fight where we will no longer be able to keep COVID-19 completely out of the community, according to a CSIRO health expert.
CSIRO Health Director Dr Rob Grenfell told the Weekend Today show this morning that the virus is now establishing itself in the community and was likely here to stay.
"We are in a transition phase for this pandemic," he said.
"We are moving into a phase where the virus certainly appears that it is establishing itself in the country.
"This was always going to happen at some stage of the pandemic. It would have been nicer to have occurred a little later when we had say many, many more people vaccinated, but it certainly appears that is what is happening."
Yet he insisted lockdowns remained a crucial weapon in quelling rising case numbers.
"If we weren't doing this in New South Wales at the moment – let's think about it – we'd be having tens of thousands of cases," he said.
"The US and UK are demonstrating that at the moment with Delta… The US had 200,000 cases yesterday for instance."
Despite its harsh lockdown, New South Wales has continued to see case numbers creep upwards, with a record 319 new infections yesterday.
Dr Grenfell said the "extremely concerning" figure meant case numbers were likely to rise further in coming days.
"That means over the last couple of weeks, or at least week or so, they have been probably spreading the virus to other people in the community," he said.
"This is a very sombre stat to actually come forward, certainly suggesting we've got a long way if we are going to go anywhere near zero cases in NSW.
In Victoria, there are growing fears their COVID-19 outbreak could head in a similar direction with 29 new infections uncovered yesterday, none of whom were in isolation.
It's the highest single-day jump in the state this year and has promped speculation that a 'ring of steel' similar to that seen during the height of Victoria's second wave last year could again encircle Melbourne.
In recent weeks, Premier Daniel Andrews has called on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to implement a similar strategy to prevent the virus seeping in to regional communities.
But Dr Grenfell was skeptical that such an approach would prove effective this time around, thanks to the increased infectivity of the Delta variant.
"This virus is something that threatens all of us now," he said.
"Back in the early stages, those sort of systems worked in a way of stopping the spread across.
"But as we've seen, to keep society open people need to move around at least to the bare minimum to keep the wheels turning – that is food supplies, power supplies, transportation systems."
"We can't expect we can stop such a very infectious virus from coming to our regional communities – so all of us need to be taking caution."
He said a similar warning applied to New South Wales, where another regional community was plunged into lockdown yesterday after two positive cases were uncovered in Armidale.
Dr Grenfell noted that signs were "positive" for south-east Queensland easing some of its restrictions today, provided no new cases not in isolation were found.