The governor of Australia’s More South Wales (NSW) state ordered a week-long extension of Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdown on Wednesday, saying that new cases are likely as the country’s largest metropolis battles the highly contagious Delta strain.
On June 26, Sydney, which is home to one-fifth of Australia’s 25 million people, was placed under lockdown as a Delta variant epidemic prompted officials to tighten restrictions in a country that has been reluctant to vaccinate. Strict stay-at-home restrictions were supposed to expire on Friday, but they have now been extended until July 16.
“This Delta strain is a game-changer, it is extremely transmissible and more contagious than any other form of the virus that we’ve seen,” NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
With Sydney fighting its worst outbreak of the year so far, total infections have topped 350 since the first case was detected three weeks ago, in its Bondi beach suburb in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
On Wednesday, 27 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 were recorded in NSW, up from 18 the day before. Twenty of the new patients were isolated for the entirety or a portion of their infectious period, while seven spent time in the community while infectious.
Lockdowns, rapid contact tracing, and a high level of community compliance with social distancing regulations have all aided Australia in suppressing previous outbreaks and keeping COVID-19 numbers reasonably low, with just over 30,800 cases and 910 fatalities. Sydney is currently under lockdown for the second time since the epidemic began.
As news of the stay-at-home extension broke, Australian travel-related stocks, like Qantas Airways Ltd (QAN.AX), fell in morning trading. Grocery chains Woolworths Group Ltd (WOW.AX) and Coles Group Ltd (COL.AX) – expected by investors to benefit higher sales during lockdowns – were trading about 1% higher, outpacing a slightly higher overall market.
‘PLEASE STAY HOME’
NSW’s Berejiklian and health officials warned Sydney residents they expect cases to rise in the next 24 hours and urged residents in three areas in the west of the city – Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool, all seeing a spike in cases – to avoid stepping out of their homes and visiting indoor areas.
“Please stay at home … Do not visit your loved ones, try and engage through digital means,” said NSW state Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant.
Meanwhile, schools in Sydney will move to remote learning from next week, after ending their southern hemisphere winter break on Friday, to eliminate crowding while parents drop and pick up children.
Unlike many other jurisdictions, NSW did not impose a citywide lockdown in early-stage outbreaks, but the highly transmissible Delta strain prompted a change of heart.
Despite the federal government’s backing, NSW has faced criticism from neighbouring states for its lockdown methods.
Health officials have also been chastised for unintentionally vaccinating many high school kids who are towards the end of the vaccine queue, but NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has slammed the media for publicising the blunder.
“You know what? The school intended it well. There was a mistake and so what? It has happened, out of a million vaccinations. Move on!,” Hazzard said.