Australia Battles Covid-19 Clusters in Sydney and Melbourne

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Authorities are battling to contain Covid-19 clusters in Australia’s two largest cities, urging people to avoid large New Year’s Eve gatherings to prevent wider outbreaks.

Ten new cases were reported overnight in Sydney, with a cluster on the Northern Beaches growing to 144, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters Thursday. A second group of infections in the city’s inner west has risen to nine.

Neighboring Victoria state, which had gone 61 days without recording community transmission of the virus, said eight cases had been detected. The outbreaks in the two states are likely connected, with someone who’d returned from New South Wales attending a Thai restaurant in Melbourne that’s linked to other new infections in the city.

The outbreaks are a blow to Australia, which had largely suppressed community transmission through rigorous testing and contact tracing, and by shuttering the international border -- with all returned overseas travelers made to isolate for 14 days in quarantine hotels.

Before the Sydney outbreak, most domestic borders had been reopened in time for the peak summer holiday season, allowing unrestricted travel in most of the country for the first time in months. States and territories have now pulled up the drawbridge to Sydneysiders -- while South Australia and Victoria have gone a step further, announcing Thursday their borders will be closed to all New South Wales residents from Jan. 1.

Western Australia, which shut its border to New South Wales on Dec. 19, will bar Victorians from entering at midnight.

“We do apologize for this disruption,” Victoria’s Acting Premier Jacinta Allan told reporters. “However these difficult decisions are about protecting the community, protecting and keeping case numbers low and doing everything we can to lock in the gains we made over the course of 2020.”

Victoria limited household gatherings to 15 people and said mask-wearing at indoor venues would be mandatory from 5 p.m. While Sydney’s iconic New Year’s Eve fireworks display will go ahead, crowds have been banned from gathering in the city and people have been urged to watch the spectacle on TV instead.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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