Australia’s COVID-19 response committee will hold an emergency meeting on Monday as outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant pop up across the country, prompting a lockdown in Sydney and tighter curbs on movement elsewhere affecting some 18 million people.
“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.
The national security committee, chaired by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will be briefed by the country’s chief medical officer later on Monday, Frydenberg said.
Sydney, Australia’s biggest city and home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million people, went into a two-week lockdown during the weekend.
Eighteen new local cases were reported in New South Wales state on Monday, compared with 30 a day earlier. Most of the cases were linked to a cluster centred on the popular beachside suburb of Bondi.
Sydney’s latest outbreak began when a driver for an international flight crew tested positive in mid-June for the Delta variant.
“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.
“With this strain, we are seeing almost 100 percent transmission within households.”
Elsewhere, the northern city of Darwin is in a two-day lockdown that began on Sunday, after a worker in a gold mine was diagnosed with the Delta variant, while Queensland state on Monday reintroduced mandatory masks and limited home gatherings in several areas, including the state capital Brisbane, following a similar move by Western Australia officials in Perth. Restrictions remain in place in Victoria state capital Melbourne and national capital Canberra.
A health alert was issued during the weekend for hundreds of passengers after a Virgin Australia cabin crew member who had worked on five different flights was confirmed positive with the virus.
Previously, Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries in tackling the spread of the coronavirus, reporting more than 30,450 cases and 910 deaths.
Lockdowns, tough social distancing rules and swift contact tracing have helped the country successfully suppress prior outbreaks but the fast-moving Delta variant has alarmed health authorities.