Sydney’s Swelling Covid Outbreak Risks Scuppering Christmas
Sydney’s 5 million residents are being urged to curb activities over the next few days to avoid fanning a coronavirus outbreak that’s closed state borders and threatens to scupper Christmas festivities.
A new health order from Monday limits gatherings in homes and entertainment venues across metropolitan Sydney for at least three days, while New South Wales state health officials work to trace the source and contain a growing cluster involving 83 people.
“We’re on a precipice,” said Marylouise McLaws, professor of epidemiology, hospital infection and infectious diseases control at the University of New South Wales. A seven-day, Sydney-wide “stay at home” order may be necessary to arrest the spread of the virus, and it would be prudent for residents to curtail holiday festivities if not cancel them altogether, she said.
Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity at the university, said Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve pose significant risks for increased transmission as people move around suburbs and hold family gatherings.
“If we don’t prevent that chain of events, we could be looking at thousands of cases in January,” she said, adding that face masks should be made mandatory in confined indoor spaces such as shopping malls.
Australia has been in the vanguard of nations that have managed to suppress SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the past, keeping the total number of reported Covid-19 cases to fewer than 29,000, including 908 fatalities, since the start of the pandemic. It’s done so through rigorous testing and contact tracing, and by shuttering the international border -- with all returned overseas travelers forced to isolate for 14 days in quarantine hotels.
Authorities are still trying to pinpoint the source of the Sydney cluster, but prior outbreaks in the states of Victoria and South Australia were linked to breaches at quarantine hotels that saw the virus leak into the community.
Fifteen locally-acquired Covid-19 cases were reported on Monday, with all linked to the cluster in Avalon in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. But potential coronavirus carriers have visited dozens of sites across Sydney, raising concern that the virus may be widely distributed across Australia’s most-populous city.
Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia imposed border restrictions and quarantine measures to prevent travelers from metropolitan Sydney or surrounding areas from spreading the virus, while Western Australia restricted entry to anyone from New South Wales.
Shares in Australian travel and leisure-related companies fell amid news of the border restrictions and concerns a broader lockdown in Sydney could scupper summer holiday plans. Qantas Airways Ltd., which had been adding flights to and from Sydney in the runup to Christmas, dropped as much as 6.3%, while Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd. sank as much as 7.1%.
Australian Travel Stocks Pummeled Amid Sydney Virus Outbreak
Victoria, which has reported no community-acquired Covid-19 cases for 51 days, will deploy 700 police at border checkpoints, Premier Daniel Andrews said.
Household gatherings in metropolitan Sydney are limited to 10 visitors until at least 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, the New South Wales Health department said. Indoor settings, including hospitality venues and places of worship, are limited to one person per 4 square meters (43 square feet), with a maximum of 300 people. Singing and chanting at indoor venues is also prohibited.
Stay at home orders for some 250,000 residents in the Northern Beaches local government area will also continue until midnight Wednesday. The region includes the popular seaside suburb of Manly, and Palm Beach, where the Australian television soap opera “Home and Away” has been filmed since 1988.
A “crisis cabinet” on Wednesday will decide whether the Northern Beaches will face a Christmas lockdown, state Health Minister Brad Hazzard told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Monday. Sydney is pressing ahead with its New Year’s Eve celebration plans, but was reviewing the situation daily, he said.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.