With an outbreak of the Delta variant spreading rapidly, Australian authorities on Saturday introduced a strict two-week lockdown for all of greater Sydney and areas surrounding the country’s largest city.
Sydney’s first city-wide lockdown since early 2020 reflects a sudden increase in concern among New South Wales state officials, who hoped that contact tracers and targeted isolation would be enough to keep the most contagious variant under control.
Instead, after initially resisting a full lockdown, officials said on Saturday that strict city-wide stay-at-home orders were needed as they had found several additional chains of transmission in the city among people with infectious diseases since. days.
The virus, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, was simply moving too quickly through the population. In the past 10 days, a group that started with a limousine driver at Sydney Airport, a city of five million people, has grown to nearly 100 cases, with dozens more expected at the over the next few days.
“We don’t want to impose burdens unless we absolutely have to,” Berejiklian said at a press conference on Saturday. “Unfortunately, we have to do it.”
She said a shorter lockdown would not be enough to regain control of transmission, describing the Delta variant as spreading much faster than other strains of the coronavirus.
“Unless you stay one step ahead of this virus, it can very easily get out of hand,” she said.
Starting Saturday at 6 p.m., residents of the Sydney metro area will only be allowed to leave their homes to exercise, see a doctor, treat loved ones, buy food or perform other essential activities. . Containment is expected to end on July 9, but could be extended.
Australia is one of many countries in the Asia-Pacific region that continue to struggle with the ups and downs of the coronavirus, mainly due to new variants and a slow rollout of vaccines, which have been rare outside from the United States, Europe and China. .
Health officials have requested additional doses from the Australian federal government, and demand for vaccines has skyrocketed after months of complacency. But most Sydney residents are still unvaccinated, and nationally less than a quarter of Australians have received even a dose, according to data from the New York Times.
Of particular concern are an expensive barber shop that saw 900 customers when at least a few employees were contagious, and a seafood wholesaler where a delivery driver tested positive after several days of hauling fish across town in Sydney.