The COVID-19 reaction committee in Australia is set to meet in an emergency meeting on Monday, following outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta form across the country, which triggered a lockdown in Sydney and additional restrictions elsewhere.
As officials deal with COVID-19 flare-ups in nearly every state and territory, more than 20 million Australians, or almost 80% of the population, are currently under some sort of lockdown or COVID-related restrictions.
“I think we are entering a new phase of this pandemic, with the more contagious Delta strain,” federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday, adding Australia was facing a “critical time” in its fight against COVID-19.
Frydenberg said the country’s top medical officer will update the country’s national security committee, which is led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Sydney, Australia’s most populated city and the capital of the state of New South Wales (NSW), went into lockdown mode over the weekend.
On Monday, 18 additional local cases were recorded in NSW, compared to 30 the day before, bringing the total number of illnesses in the newest epidemic to 130 since the first case was discovered nearly two weeks ago in a driver for international flight staff.
“We have to be prepared for the numbers to bounce around and we have to be prepared for the numbers to go up considerably,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
“With this strain, we are seeing almost 100% transmission within households.”
An initial two-day lockdown in the northern city of Darwin, scheduled to end on Tuesday, was extended to Friday after the Delta variant of the virus was found in a fly-in, fly-out mine worker.
Queensland and South Australia reintroduced mandatory masks and restricted home gatherings, following a similar move by Western Australian officials for state capital Perth. Restrictions remain in place in Victoria state capital Melbourne and national capital Canberra.
Queensland reported two new locally acquired cases while Western Australia and Northern Territory detected one each.
Over the weekend, a health alert was issued for hundreds of passengers when an infected Virgin Australia cabin crew member worked on five flights between Brisbane, Melbourne, and the Gold Coast.
With little over 30,500 cases and 910 deaths, Australia has performed far better than many other wealthy countries in combating the spread of the coronavirus.
Lockdowns, strict social distance regulations, and rapid contact tracking have managed to control previous outbreaks, but the fast-moving Delta strain has officials concerned.
NSW police fined 44 people for breaching stay-at-home orders, including a pair of naked sunbathers who became lost in a national park after being startled by a deer.
“Not only did they require assistance from police to rescue them, they also both received a ticket for A$1,000 ($759),” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told reporters.
($1 = 1.3180 Australian dollars)