Australia’s former prime minister has warned that the country’s vaccine rollout has been a "colossal failure" due to the significant shortfall in jabs amid a new spike in cases and widespread lockdowns. 

Malcolm Turnbull, who served as prime minister from 2015-2018, said that the Australian government under Scott Morrison had failed to buy enough vaccines and had only secured enough AstraZeneca jabs despite there being considerable hesitancy over the vaccine.

"It’s the biggest failure of public administration I can recall," he told BBC Australia. "It was a colossal failure and the problem is you can’t wind the clock back and fix what should have been done last year. 

"The very reason we are locked down – which is so frustrating when so many other parts of the world are opening up – is simply because our government failed to buy enough vaccines."

Only 16.7 per cent of people aged 16 and over are currently double vaccinated in Australia, compared with 70.5 per cent of people aged 18 and over fully jabbed in the UK. 

Mounted police officers patrol Bondi Beach during lockdown in Sydney

Credit: REUTERS/Loren Elliott/REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Mr Turnbull also warned that Australia will only realistically be able to re-open its borders in the "march quarter of 2022". 

"The reason is that we simply won’t have enough of the mRNA vaccines until October, November to get a large percentage of the population vaccinated… to get to the same level that you have in the UK, or in most parts of the USA, or indeed Singapore," he said. 

Australia has been highly successful at combatting the spread of the virus through swift contact tracing, tough social distancing rules and stringent border controls, with just under 33,100 cases and 920 deaths being recorded since the pandemic first appeared in early 2020.

However, the country has been experiencing a spike in cases in recent weeks and more than half of Australia’s near 26 million population has been in lockdown after an outbreak of the highly infectious delta variant took hold in Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, and spread to three states.

New South Wales reported 172 new Covid cases on Tuesday, up from 145 a day earlier. The state also reported that 169 people are in hospital with the virus, of which 46 are in intensive care.

Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales, said a decision on whether to extend the state’s five-week lockdown will be taken this week. But with less than a fifth of the state’s population fully vaccinated, curbs are expected to remain.

More than half of Australia's near 26 million population has been in lockdown in recent weeks

Credit: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg/Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

"We know we’ve put in the hard yards for five weeks and we don’t want to waste all the good work that we’ve done by opening too early and then having the virus spread again," she said. 

In contrast, the state of Victoria announced that most restrictions imposed on July 15 will be removed from Wednesday after recording just 10 infections of people already in quarantine.

"All in all, this is a good day," Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria, said. 

Victoria’s 5 million residents will now be allowed to leave home freely and schools will reopen, though households will not be permitted to have visitors.

South Australia said it will also lift a lockdown on Wednesday after it recorded zero Covid cases in the past 24 hours.