Sydney braces for extended lockdown amid COVID-19 outbreak

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australia’s largest city, Sydney, is bracing for a prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as officials warn new daily cases are likely to top 100 on Monday amid a fast-growing outbreak of the Delta virus variant.

New infections have been rising daily despite the city, home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, entering lockdown more than two weeks ago.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sunday flagged the expectation the lockdown would be extended beyond the planned end date of July 16, warning the situation would worsen before getting better.

Lockdown measures were toughened over the weekend, restricting residents to within 10 kms (6 miles) of home for exercise. Outdoor gatherings have been limited to two people and only one person in a household can leave the home each day for buying essentials.

A Sydney woman in her 90s became the first person to die from locally contracted COVID-19 in Australia this year, officials reported on Sunday.

Total infections in the outbreak, which began in mid-June, are nearing 600. Almost 50 people have been hospitalised, a rate of one in eight of those infected.

Australia has previously successfully suppressed sporadic flare-ups of infections through snap lockdowns, speedy contact tracing and tough social distancing rules. With a total of around 31,200 cases and 911 deaths since the pandemic began, it has fared better than many other developed economies.

However, the highly transmissible Delta strain and a sluggish vaccine rollout have stoked concerns of a significant outbreak. Only around 11% of Australia’s adult population of just over 20.5 million have been fully vaccinated so far.