The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) on Saturday made masks compulsory in Sydney, reduced the size of gatherings and imposed new restrictions on movement, as a COVID-19 cluster expanded, and Victoria recorded new locally acquired cases in an outbreak that has linked back to the state’s northern neighbour.
NSW State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the move to require masks indoors would make people more confident about going out and help support the economy after NSW confirmed seven new cases of the coronavirus.
She also closed nightclubs and reduced the number of people allowed at gym classes, weddings, funerals and places of worship.
“We consider health and safety first and foremost, but we also need to think about wellbeing and jobs and the economy,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
“And that’s why by putting these measures and settings in place we are confident we can continue to increase and encourage economic activity, give confidence to business and jobs, but also, of course, keep the virus at bay.”
Of the seven new cases, five were linked to known clusters, one was a person in the same household as a previously confirmed case, and the source of the other remained under investigation.
Movement restrictions remain in place for some 70,000 people in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, where the latest outbreak was first discovered. The order for the southern part of the area was lifted on Saturday.
The mask rule comes into effect on Saturday at midnight (13:00 GMT) with exemptions for children under 12 and people with certain health issues. From Monday, those that disobey face a fine of 200 Australian dollars ($154).
Victoria, which now has 29 active cases, this week made masks mandatory across the state while limiting gatherings and shutting its border to NSW, prompting lengthy delays at border checkpoints on New Year’s Day.
Authorities on Saturday said genomic sequencing showed the Victorian outbreak was directly linked to the NSW cluster, vindicating its decision to shut borders.
“As a result of the learnings that we have gone through, we’ve taken the view that the responses we have put in place are proportionate and fair. Victorians have a lot at stake here,” Victorian Minister for Health Martin Foley said.
Residents of Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, earlier endured one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to eliminate an outbreak that emerged in July.
Australia has reported more than 28,441 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.