Australian authorities extended a lockdown in Sydney on Wednesday by at least 14 days, after three weeks of initial restrictions failed to stamp out an outbreak of COVID-19 in the country’s largest city.
New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said restrictions would need to remain in place until at least July 30 after she reported 97 new locally transmitted cases, a slight increase from a day earlier.
“It always hurts to say this, but we need to extend the lockdown at least a further two weeks,” Berejiklian said in Sydney on Wednesday.
“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.”
Of the 97 new cases, 24 people were infectious in the community.
Berejiklian has repeatedly said that the lockdown, in place since June 26, will only be lifted when the number of newly reported cases that were circulating in the community while infectious were close to zero.
The harbour city of 5 million residents was plunged into an initial two-week lockdown in late June as the highly contagious Delta variant started to take hold in a country that has otherwise largely avoided mass infections.
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.
There are now 71 COVID-19 patients in hospital as a result of the Sydney outbreak, with 20 people in intensive care units (ICU), including one person aged in their 20s and two in their 30s.
“Yes it is less likely to lead to hospitalisations in younger age groups but it still can be a serious illness admission to ICU so it’s important to keep ourselves and loved ones safe so please follow the public health advice,” New South Wales Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.
The shutdown has now been extended on two occasions after restrictions failed to curb daily case numbers. Total infections since the first was initially detected in the city’s eastern suburbs in mid-June now stand at just under 900. Two deaths have been reported, the first for the country this year.
The virus appears to have spread to parts of the city previously unaffected, according to a list of potential exposure sites published by health authorities overnight. The outbreak has also spread to regional areas, with a case detected in Goulburn, about 200 km (125 miles) south-west of Sydney, and has crossed the border to Victoria state where three cases were reported on Tuesday.
The outbreak has started to pressure health services, with queues for COVID-19 tests in Fairfield, in Sydney’s south-west, stretching for kilometres overnight due to new health orders requiring people who leave the suburb for work to be tested regularly.
Snap lockdowns, speedy contact tracing and tough social distancing rules have otherwise helped Australia keep COVID-19 numbers lower than many other developed countries, with just over 31,300 cases and 912 deaths.
A sluggish vaccination programme has meant that less than 10 per cent of the population has received two vaccine doses.
In New South Wales, health workers have administered just over 2.7 million vaccine doses, authorities said on Wednesday.