Millions in Sydney wake to coronavirus lockdown

Millions of Sydney residents woke Sunday to the first full day of a two-week coronavirus lockdown, as Australia tried to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Restaurants, bars and cafes were shuttered after stay-at-home orders for central neighbourhoods were extended across Sydney and to the coastal and mountainous regions surrounding the sprawling city.

Authorities had initially imposed movement restrictions on only those in Sydney’s business district and affluent eastern suburbs, but the fast spread of cases in other areas saw the more drastic step introduced Saturday evening.

Australia’s northern city of Darwin will enter a separate snap 48-hour lockdown on Sunday after a handful of cases were linked to a coronavirus outbreak on a remote mine, Northern Territory authorities announced. 

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said officials were concerned about being unable to reach close contacts of infected people in the region, which is home to a large Indigenous population feared to be more vulnerable to Covid-19.

“We are taking extreme action right now to stop or slow any spread before the coronavirus is let loose in the Territory, and that means we need a lockdown,” he said.

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.

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.

“Given how contagious this strain of the virus is, we do anticipate that in the next few days case numbers are likely to increase even beyond what we have seen today,” Berejiklian told reporters Sunday.

The flare-up has been a shock for a city that had returned to relative normality after months with few local cases.

Sydney’s restrictions require people to stay home for at least two weeks, only venturing out to purchase essential goods, obtain medical care, exercise, go to school or if they are unable to work from home.

Anyone outside of the lockdown zone who had visited Sydney since Monday was also instructed to self-isolate for 14 days.

The city is experiencing the latest in a string of “circuit-breaker” lockdowns across major Australian cities, with most cases linked to returning travellers quarantining in hotel rooms.

More than 150,000 people in Darwin and surrounding areas will be subject to stay-at-home orders for at least 48 hours to give health officials time to trace contacts, for the first time since a country-wide shutdown in the early stages of the pandemic.

“We are confident that the 48 hours allows us the time to do the work and allows us the time to get a greater degree of information about lifting or extending,” Gunner said of the restrictions.

Australia has been among the world’s most successful countries in containing Covid-19, with just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths in a population of about 25 million.

But the government has faced criticism for a sluggish vaccine rollout, with about 7.2 million doses administered by Friday and only a small proportion having received both jabs.

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