SYDNEY (Reuters) -The leader of Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Wednesday ordered a week-long extension of Sydney’s COVID-19 lockdown, warning new cases are bound to rise as the country’s biggest city grapples with the highly infectious Delta variant.
Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million people, was plunged into lockdown on June 26 as a Delta variant outbreak persuaded officials to tighten restrictions in a country that has been slow to vaccinate. Strict stay-at-home orders were due to end on Friday, but now remain in place 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.
A total of 27 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 were reported on Wednesday in NSW, up from 18 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 20 were either in isolation throughout or for part of their infectious period, while seven cases spent time in the community while they were infectious.
Lockdowns, swift contact tracing and a high community compliance with social distancing rules have helped Australia suppress past outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 30,800 cases and 910 deaths. The current lockdown is Sydney’s second since the pandemic began.
As news of the stay-at-home extension broke, Australian travel-related stocks, like Qantas Airways Ltd, fell in morning trading. Grocery chains Woolworths Group Ltd and Coles Group Ltd – 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 states, NSW resisted ordering the entire city into lockdown in early-stage outbreaks, but the highly transmissible Delta strain forced a rethink.
NSW has had to field criticism from some other states on its lockdown strategies, although it had the support of the federal government.
Health authorities are also under fire for inadvertently vaccinating several high school students, who are at the end of the vaccination queue, but NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard criticised media for highlighting the error.
“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.
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