New South Wales widens COVID alert after travel rules broken

Rural farming town and beach resort on alert after people defy lockdown to travel out of Sydney.

Australia has stepped up testing as it tries to contain a Sydney outbreak of the Delta variant [File: Saeed Khan/AFP]

The Australian state of New South Wales has expanded its COVID-19 lockdown beyond Sydney, the country’s biggest city, amid concern that the outbreak fuelled by the more transmissible Delta variant may have spread to the state’s rural hinterland.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the lockdown of the farming town of Tamworth, about 414km (257 miles) to Sydney’s northwest, after it emerged people had travelled there without authorisation.

“As a precaution, the health experts have recommended we lock down Tamworth for one week,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

Officials also urged people in the Byron Bay area to get tested after a Sydney man travelled to the beach resort about seven hours north.

New South Wales reported 283 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, up from 262 cases a day earlier.

The state has struggled to contain a surge of the highly infectious Delta variant despite a lockdown of Sydney, which is now in its seventh week.

Neighbouring Victoria state said it would ease some restrictions after reporting 11 new COVID-19 cases, the same as the previous day.

The majority of the new cases spent time in the community while infectious, but state Premier Daniel Andrews said the lockdown of regional Victoria would lift later on Monday.

Melbourne, the state capital, will remain in lockdown – the sixth since the pandemic began – until at least August 12, he said.

In Brisbane, capital of Queensland state, authorities reported four new local cases on Monday, the first day after the city came out of stay-home restrictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under fire for the sluggish vaccine rollout, with only 22 percent of Australians above 16 years of age fully vaccinated.

An opinion poll by The Australian newspaper showed his public approval rating at its lowest since devastating fires ripped through southeastern Australia in early 2020.

Australia has managed to keep its pandemic numbers relatively low compared with other countries around the world and so far reported about 36,250 cases and 939 deaths, including a woman in her 90s whose death in Sydney was reported on Monday.

Neighbouring New Zealand, which has not seen a community case since February, said on Monday that 11 of 21 crewmembers on board container ship Rio De La Plata off the country’s northern coast have tested positive for COVID-19.

As a precaution, 94 port workers who spent time on the vessel while it was in port are being contacted and stood down until they return a negative test result.

Source: Reuters