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Australia: Stricter COVID Restrictions Imposed As Delta Cases Continue To Surge In Sydney

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New Delhi: Even as Sydney approaches the end of its fifth week under strict stay-at-home orders, the city’s delta-outbreak cases have reached a new high, prompting authorities to impose additional restrictions and penalties to ensure compliance.

New South Wales, Australia’s largest state economy, recorded 239 new cases on Thursday, the most since the outbreak began in Sydney in mid-June, and an increase from 177 the day before.

At least 70 cases were active in the community while infectious, raising concerns among health officials that the coronavirus delta-variant could spread further in the city of nearly 6 million people.

ALSO READ | New Coronavirus Cases In India Above 40K Mark With 43,509 Fresh Infections As Kerala Tally Remains High

“Based on those numbers, we can only assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday as quoted by Bloomberg. Two more people had died, she added.

Mask-wearing in public which is made mandatory in the city’s worst-affected areas carries penalties for violation ranging from A$200 ($147) to A$500. Stricter travel restrictions will be imposed, and thousands of police officers will be assigned to ensure compliance.

Berejiklian also confirmed on Wednesday that the city’s lockdown will be in place for at least nine weeks, after it was extended for a third time until August 28. The restrictions went into effect on June 26, when 12 new cases were reported in the community. With nearly 3,000 cases reported since mid-June, the city’s outbreak has since swollen, fueled by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

Australia’s Covid Zero Strategy has reached its limit due to a lack of a backup plan.

The outbreak is highlighting issues with Australia’s so-called Covid Zero strategy for keeping the virus out of local communities, which has been hampered by supply-chain delays from contracted drug-makers. Political opponents also claim that Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to secure sufficient doses from a diverse range of suppliers.

Earlier in July, Morrison stated that state and territory leaders had agreed to map out a path to shift from virus suppression to focusing on reducing the risk of serious illness and hospitalisation, based on yet-to-be-determined high vaccination rates.

While the National Cabinet will meet again on Friday to discuss the country’s exit strategy from Covid Zero, Morrison has indicated that he is unlikely to announce the vaccination targets required to begin opening up for business for several weeks.

Meanwhile, his conservative government is spending approximately A$750 million per week on support for businesses and workers in New South Wales, and some economists predict that the Sydney lockdown will cause an economic contraction in the third quarter.

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