Australia steps up testing to rein in COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney

(Reuters) – Australia’s New South Wales state has increased COVID-19 testing to rein in a resurgence of coronavirus infections in Sydney, with other states and territories taking similar steps on concerns the outbreak might have spread.

A record of nearly 70,000 tests were conducted on Thursday across New South Wales (NSW), home to about a quarter of Australia’s 25-million population, officials said.

NSW recorded on Friday seven new cases of the coronavirus, six linked to an outbreak in the suburbs of Sydney’s northern beaches that has kept more than a quarter of million in some sort of lockdown for nearly a week. The cluster now stands at 104.

Rain has kept people away from beaches and at home on Christmas Day, but officials urged social distancing at gatherings, cutting down on Boxing Day shopping and getting tested.

“I do not think anyone is having a normal Christmas today across NSW,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a televised briefing. “Make sure you think very carefully about all the activities you are undertaking.”

The neighbouring state of Victoria, which has not seen a new COVID-19 case for eight straight weeks after battling a big outbreak for months, conducted more than 11,000 tests on Thursday.

The day before, a record of more than 96,000 COVID-19 tests were done across Australia.

“Well done Australia!” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter late on Thursday. “Let’s all keep doing our bit to stay COVIDSafe.”

Sydney has been virtually isolated from the rest of the country with state border closures or mandatory 14-day quarantine for arrivals from the city. The coronavirus outbreak has been largely contained to the affected suburbs, but there have been a handful of cases reported across Australia in the past week.

Australia has reported just over 28,000 coronavirus cases and 908 deaths so far, thanks in part to widespread testing, which is free at public health facilities.