Sydney’s Delta Outbreak Triggers Travel Clamps, Mandatory Masks

About 1 million people in Sydney will be barred from leaving the city, as Australia races to control an outbreak of the Delta variant that’s having ramifications as far afield as New Zealand.

From 4 p.m. on Wednesday, households will be limited to hosting five guests, while masks will be mandatory in indoor venues including workplaces and shops, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters. Residents in eastern and inner-west areas of Sydney won’t be allowed to travel outside the city for non-essential reasons for at least a week.

The surge in cases has created “a very real and present danger,” state Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters. “This is a very serious situation.” The stricter measures come as 13 new cases were recorded in less than a day in Australia’s most-populous city, bringing the cluster to at least 30 infections.

‘Covid Zero’ Risks Being ‘Covid Limbo’ Amid Slow Vaccine Uptake

The outbreak is placing pressure on Australia’s so-called “Covid zero” strategy, designed to eliminate the virus from the community, with the infectious Delta variant creating more leaks from hotels used to quarantine Australians returning from overseas. Those outbreaks have triggered localized lockdowns that are hampering economic recovery.

Australia and New Zealand are among the handful of Asia-Pacific places where strict containment is a growing economic disadvantage as highly-vaccinated countries like the U.S., U.K. and parts of Europe begin to open up. These “Covid zero” places, which include Singapore, Hong Kong and China, are facing growing backlash as the measures that kept fatalities low are now leaving their populations isolated.

Travel Bubble

In response to the Sydney cluster, New Zealand has halted its travel bubble with New South Wales. After it was discovered that an infectious Australian tourist visited the capital city Wellington over the weekend, authorities there limited the size of gatherings and imposed new social distancing restrictions.

While standard bearers when it comes to keeping out Covid, both Australia and New Zealand have struggled with securing and rolling out vaccines. The lack of infections has made Australians hesitant around receiving jabs, particularly given concern about blood clots from the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine that’s being given to people over 60.

New Zealand Imposes Restrictions in Wellington Amid Virus Alert

​The country of more than 25 million people has administered shots to cover 13.2% of its population, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, versus the U.S. at almost 50% and the U.K. at 56%. New Zealand has inoculated just 9.1%, the tracker shows.

Sydney’s Delta Outbreak Triggers Travel Clamps, Mandatory Masks

Since an initial nationwide lockdown imposed when the pandemic began in March 2020, Berejiklian hasn’t enforced a strict city-wide lockdown for Sydney, even as the neighboring state of Victoria has endured more than 120 days of tough restrictions. On Wednesday, she didn’t rule out taking further measures later this week if required.

Sections of the business community have ramped up demands on the nation’s federal and state leaders to abandon the Covid zero strategy, saying enforced shutdowns put too much pressure on affected businesses.

“It’s going to impact services spending, in particular in New South Wales,” said Ryan Felsman, a senior economist at the securities unit of Commonwealth Bank of Australia. “When there are snap lockdowns or mini-lockdowns, we see spending restraint.”

Australia Raises Recommended Age for AstraZeneca Vaccine to 60

The Sydney outbreak will also increase pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ramp up the nation’s tardy vaccine rollout. While the federal government has abandoned its original October target to inoculate the population, it’s also said it won’t reopen borders until its safe to do so, meaning Australia is likely to be isolated from most of the world into next year.

The outbreak will impact the nation’s tourism industry, with other states and territories moving to restrict travel from people in Sydney -- Western Australia and South Australia on Wednesday announced that arrivals from New South Wales would no longer be permitted.

That comes as the sector, including airlines, has already born the brunt of the economic fall-out in the country. New South Wales is due to start its two-week mid-winter school holiday season this weekend.

“Certainly it’s going to crimp those travel plans of people that were heading” interstate or to New Zealand, Felsman said. “That will have an impact on bookings for holiday accommodation and broadly the services economy.”

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