After three weeks of initial restrictions failed to contain the country’s greatest outbreak of COVID-19 this year, Australian authorities extended a lockdown in Sydney for at least 14 days on Wednesday.
After reporting 97 new locally transmitted cases, New South Wales State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced restrictions will be in place until at least July 30, a tiny rise from the day before.
“It always hurts to say this,” Berejiklian said in Sydney on Wednesday, “but we need to extend the lockdown for at least another two weeks.”
“We want to get out of this lockdown as soon as we can and that is why we have the settings in place that we have.”
The closure has been extended twice since the first incidence of the epidemic was discovered near the iconic Bondi Beach in mid-June. The total number of illnesses in the 5 million-strong harbour metropolis is now just under 900, with two deaths reported, the first for the country this year.
Berejiklian has stated repeatedly that the lockdown, which has been in effect since June 26, will be removed only when the number of newly reported cases circulating in the community while infectious is close to zero.
Of the 97 new cases, 24 people were infectious in the community, meaning authorities expect more cases of highly contagious Delta variant to come to light in the coming days.
Many non-essential businesses are closed, and most school students are staying home, with residents only allowed outside their homes for essential activities and some exercise.
Neighboring Victoria state, which spent nearly a third of 2020 under lockdown as the center of Australia’s first wave of COVID-19 cases, meanwhile reported its biggest daily case increase in weeks, all linked to a team of furniture movers who carried the virus interstate from Sydney.
Among the seven new cases in the state, one person attended a football match at Melbourne Cricket Ground while contagious, meaning 2,000 people who were in the same members’ area needed to get tested, the authorities said.
Hundreds of people in the state have been ordered into isolation and an apartment block visited by the moving team was locked down. Investigators were checking for clues of possible contacts, but there was no indication of plans for wider movement restrictions.
“Collectively, as the Victorian community, I’m confident we can get on top of it but if we have to bring additional weapons … we’ll do that,” said the state’s COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar. “The next two or three days are going to be absolutely critical.”
The authorities of a third state, South Australia, said they were trying to piece together the movements of the same furniture moving team who travelled there after Victoria, and that the state may impose restrictions on people travelling from Victoria.
In New South Wales, there are now 71 COVID-19 patients in hospital from the Sydney outbreak, with 20 people in intensive care units, including one person aged in their 20s and two in their 30s.
The virus appears to have spread to parts of Sydney previously unaffected, and to regional areas, with a case detected in Goulburn, about 200 km (125 miles) south-west of Sydney.
The epidemic has put a strain on health services, with COVID-19 test lines stretching for kilometers overnight in Fairfield, in Sydney’s south-west, as a result of new health orders mandating residents who leave the neighbourhood for work to be tested on a regular basis.
With just over 31,300 cases and 912 deaths, Australia has kept COVID-19 numbers lower than many other affluent countries, thanks to quick lockdowns, quick contact tracing, and strict social distancing measures.
Due to a sluggish immunization effort, only about 10% of the population has received two vaccine doses.
Health professionals in New South Wales have given out little over 2.7 million vaccination doses, according to authorities.