Australian officials race to stem COVID-19 outbreak

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria reported a steady increase in locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Friday, the first day of a five-day snap lockdown across the state, while infections are expected to surge in neighbouring New South Wales.

Around 40% of Australia’s population of around 25 million are currently under stay-home orders because of an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant that spread from a limousine driver transporting overseas airline crews in Sydney.

Total cases since mid-June are nearing 1,000 as the virus crossed state borders despite a lockdown in the harbour city that is about to enter its fourth week.

Victoria officials reported 6 new cases on Friday, compared with 7 reported a day earlier.

Total virus-exposed sites in Victoria have topped 100, mainly in the state capital Melbourne, including a stadium that hosted a rugby match between Australia and France, with hundreds of fans ordered to test and isolate.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews called the snap lockdown on Thursday night as officials race to track two different chains of transmission – an infected team of furniture movers from Sydney and a family who returned home after a trip to the city.

The group of furniture movers also travelled to South Australia for work while infected, adding pressure on officials there to tighten restrictions in the state.

New South Wales officials are still struggling to get a grip on the outbreak as newly infected people continue to move around in the community despite repeated pleas for Sydney residents to stay home for all but essential business.

Snap lockdowns, tough social distancing rules and swift contact tracing have helped Australia keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 31,500 cases and 912 deaths, but the fast-moving Delta variant has stoked concerns of a major fresh wave.