Authorities struggle to contain a spike in the highly contagious variant as health experts urge complete shutdown.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city, has begun a two-week lockdown as a cluster of cases of the highly infectious coronavirus Delta variant rose to 110.
Restaurants, bars and cafes were shuttered on Sunday as stay-at-home orders were extended across Sydney, including in the coastal and mountainous regions surrounding the sprawling city.
The restrictions require people to stay home for at least 14 days, only venturing out to buy essential goods, obtain medical care, exercise, go to school or if they are unable to work from home.
Health experts had advised that a shorter snap lockdown of Sydney – which has proved effective in other Australian cities in recent months – would not be enough to contain the growing cluster, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in announcing the measures.
“Given how contagious this strain of the virus is, we do anticipate that in the next few days, case numbers are likely to increase beyond what we have seen today,” Berejiklian told a news briefing in Sydney on Sunday.
Australia has been more successful in managing the pandemic than many other advanced economies through swift border closures, social distancing rules and high compliance, reporting just over 30,450 cases and 910 COVID-19 deaths.
But the country has confronted an increasing number of small outbreaks in recent months.
In Sydney, more than 110 COVID-19 cases have been reported since a driver for an international flight crew tested positive in mid-June to the highly contagious Delta variant, which first emerged in India.
The caseload includes 30 new cases reported on Sunday.
Health authorities said contact tracers were now racing to get in touch with airline passengers after discovering that an attendant on several flights across the country had become infected in Sydney.
Also on Sunday, Australia’s northern city of Darwin entered a separate snap two-day lockdown after a handful of cases were linked to a coronavirus outbreak on a remote mine.
The Delta variant infections – which are unrelated to the Sydney outbreak – started with a worker at a gold mine owned by Newmont Corp, now in lockdown.
As authorities have not been able to track down all close contacts of the miner, an immediate 48-hour hard lockdown on Darwin and some surroundings was imposed.
“I would rather regret us going too hard, too early than go too easy and risk it all,” Chief Minister Michael Gunner said at a news briefing.
Neighbouring Queensland reported on Sunday two locally acquired COVID-19 cases, with authorities saying both infections were of the Alpha variant, first detected in the United Kingdom in September of 2020.
Western Australia reported one community case that state authorities suspected was the Delta variant.