Delta sweeps Sydney as Australia widens COVID-19 restrictions

The Sydney Opera House is seen following the easing of restrictions implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia

Australian officials on Friday warned Sydney residents to brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases after the country’s largest city logged record infections for the second straight day despite a weeks-long lockdown to stamp out an outbreak of Delta variant.

“Just based on the trend in the last few days and where things are going, I am expecting higher case numbers in the next few days and I just want everyone to be prepared for that,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital.

Sydney reported a record 279 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, up from the previous high of 259 the day before. New South Wales reported a record 291 cases, up from 262, with one new death, raising the state total to 22 in the latest outbreak, all in Sydney.

Of particular concern is the growing number of people positive with the highly infectious Delta strain moving around in the community, particularly in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs. Around one-fifth of Friday’s cases have spent time outside while infectious.

More than 60% of Australia’s 25 million citizens are in hard lockdowns on Friday to try to contain latest surge, including the country’s three largest cities Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The current outbreak centered around the Delta strain is testing Australia’s largely successful handling of the coronavirus crisis that has kept its exposure relatively low with just over 35,600 cases and 933 deaths.

But stop-and-start lockdowns amid a sluggish vaccination rollout, with only about 21% of people above 16 fully vaccinated, have frustrated residents.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under fire for the slow rollout, has blamed the delay on changing medical advice over concerns of rare blood clots from locally produced AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccines and supply constraints with Pfizer (PFE.N) shots.

Victoria, next to New South Wales and home to nearly 7 million people, on Thursday entered its sixth lockdown since the pandemic began, just weeks after exiting its last, jolting residents and triggering an anti-lockdown rally in state capital Melbourne.

It reported six locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Friday, a day after several unlinked new infections in Melbourne suddenly emerged, down from eight a day earlier.

Of Friday’s cases, all are linked to previously reported ones but were not in quarantine during their infectious period, the state’s health department said.

In Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, the authorities reported 10 new cases, down from 16 the day before, and added that they were hopeful a lockdown would be lifted as planned on Sunday since all but two cases were isolated before testing positive.

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