Sydney Tightens Its Lockdown as Delta Cases Surge to Record
(Bloomberg) -- Authorities are tightening restrictions, increasing fines and ramping up policing in Sydney in a bid to contain the delta outbreak in Australia’s most populous city, after cases surged to a record on Saturday.
New South Wales state reported 466 new cases in the local community Saturday, up 19% from the previous record the day before. The vast majority of infections were in Sydney, which is failing to contain the outbreak despite entering its eighth week of lockdown against the delta strain.
“This is the most concerning day of this outbreak so far,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters Saturday. Four more people have died, she said. Later Saturday, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said in a tweet that all of the state would enter a week-long lockdown from 5 p.m.
From Monday, there will be a “visible and increased police presence” in areas hardest-hit by the outbreak, including members of the riot squad, and an extra 500 soldiers to enforce compliance on top of the 300 already on the ground, Berejiklian said. Fines will be ramped up, including A$5,000 ($3,685) for quarantine breaches and A$3,000 for exercising outside of guidelines.
The delta variant is placing increased pressure on Australia’s so-called “Covid Zero” strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus. That has prompted state governments to put about half the nation’s population of 26 million people under lockdown, threatening an economic recovery.
While residents of Sydney and other locked-down areas had been told prior to Saturday’s announcement not to leave home unless it couldn’t be avoided, there was a lengthy list of exemptions -- such as for outside exercise or essential work -- that some had been using liberally. From Monday, all residents of the city will be required to shop and exercise within 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) of home.
“The increased fines and heightened police presence are about ensuring people who are doing the wrong thing are caught and punished appropriately,” Berejiklian said in a separate statement.
Meanwhile, Sydney residents will be eligible for a new A$320 payment when isolating while waiting for a Covid-19 test, in a bid encourage them not to travel while symptomatic. Anyone seeking to leave the city will need a permit.
Though Sydney has been in lockdown for almost two months, its curbs have been generally looser than those that helped Melbourne control the pathogen last year. Daily infections in Sydney have surged from 12 on June 26, when the stay-at-home order was first announced.
The virus has escaped Sydney as a minority of residents have flouted the rules, plunging more than half of New South Wales state into snap lockdowns. National capital Canberra enforced stay-at-home orders Thursday for the first time in more than a year due to a delta cluster.
Meanwhile, Melbourne’s sixth lockdown of the pandemic is into its second week, with Australia’s second-largest city recording 21 new cases Saturday.
Other state leaders, who have implemented their own border closures against residents from Sydney, have increased criticism of Berejiklian’s strategy, saying the deteriorating situation in New South Wales is threatening their own Covid Zero strategies that so far have kept coronavirus deaths in Australia below 1,000.
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“It’s absolutely imperative that New South Wales contains this virus,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters Friday. “We are very concerned about how the clusters are continuing to expand.”
The increased restrictions in Sydney come amid concerns the virus has spread to indigenous communities across regional New South Wales. Aboriginal Australians, who comprise less than 3% of the total population, are among the most vulnerable due to their increased likelihood of having underlying health conditions.
Movement restrictions are likely to remain for months as Prime Minister Scott Morrison tries to ramp up a tardy vaccine rollout that’s seen less than 20% of the population fully vaccinated. State premiers have indicated some restrictions may lift once 70% of the adult population is vaccinated, while international boarders will begin reopening once 80% of the population is inoculated.
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