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By Renju Jose and Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison's public approval rating hit its lowest level since the pandemic began amid growing frustration over lockdowns and a sluggish vaccination drive, a widely watched poll published on Monday showed.
A Newspoll conducted for The Australian newspaper showed Morrison's public support dropped four points to 47%, the lowest level since he fielded criticism early last year over his government's response to devastating bushfires.
Morrison's Liberal-National Party coalition government is also trailing opposition Labor on a two-party preferred basis, where votes for minor parties are distributed, by 47-53. If the poll result were replicated at an election, the conservative government would lose office to centre-left Labor.
Morrison must return to the polls by May 2022, by which time all Australians over 18 are expected to have been offered a COVID-19 vaccine.
Approval of Morrison's handling of the pandemic has almost halved from a high of 85% in April last year, during the peak of the first wave of infections, to 48% in the latest survey.
Australia had hoped to complete its vaccine roll-out by October 2021 but this timetable was extended to the end of the year after rare blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine saw Canberra initially recommend everyone under 60 take the Pfizer inoculation.
Pfizer supplies remain in short supply until October, and with outbreaks flaring in several states, advice now recommending people take the AstraZeneca vaccine if available has fuelled some confusion and criticism.
Morrison has also been criticised by the likes of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who described the vaccine programme as "a colossal failure".
With fewer than 23% of Australians fully vaccinated, states have been forced to use a series of stop-and-start lockdowns to quell outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Sydney and Melbourne - Australia's two largest cities - are under hard lockdowns while southeast Queensland came out of strict stay-home orders on Sunday.
Still, Australia's pandemic numbers have remained relatively low, with just over 36,250 cases and 939 deaths.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.)