Australia’s Sydney extends COVID lockdown as Delta cluster grows

Residents of Australia’s largest city will spend at least one more week in lockdown, authorities announced on Wednesday, after detecting dozens of new coronavirus cases.

Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million people, first went into lockdown on June 26 amid an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant. While strict stay-at-home orders were due to end in the city on Friday, they will now remain in place until July 16.

“This Delta strain is a game-changer, it is extremely transmissible and more contagious than any other form of the virus that we’ve seen,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales, told reporters in Sydney.

“The reason why we’ve extended the lockdown is because of a number of cases still infectious in the community,” she said, and “we don’t want to be in a position where we are constantly having to move between lockdown, no lockdown, lockdown, no lockdown”.

A total of 27 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 were reported in NSW on Wednesday, up from 18 a day earlier. Of the new cases, 20 were either in isolation throughout or for part of their infectious period, while seven cases spent time in the community while they were infectious.

Berejiklian said an extension – which includes school closures – was the “best chance of making sure this is the only lockdown we have until the vast majority of our citizens are vaccinated”.

Only 9 percent of Australian adults have been fully vaccinated so far, heightening fears that the Delta variant could quickly spread beyond control.

Last week, almost half of Australia’s population was locked down, with cities on the east, west and north coasts tightening pandemic restrictions due to clusters. Some of those lockdowns were as short as three days.

Sydney and its surrounds are the only part of Australia still in lockdown.

The city is fighting its worst outbreak of the year so far, with infections topping 350 since the first case was detected three weeks ago in its Bondi beach suburb after a limousine driver who drove an overseas airline crew tested positive.

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