SYDNEY/CANBERRA, (Reuters) – Two million residents of Sydney will be under nightly curfew from next week to slow the highly infectious Delta variant of coronavirus that is spreading across New South Wales state, authorities said on Friday as they extended lockdown orders.
Australia’s third wave of COVID-19 infections, centred on Sydney, has forced more than half the population of nearly 26 million into lockdown and pushed the world’s 13th-largest economy to the brink of its second recession in as many years.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian extended Sydney’s lockdown until the end of September and imposed new restrictions including the curfew, a requirement to wear a mask when outside and limits on exercise.
“I asked health and police to work together, to give me a final list of what we can throw at this, to leave no shadow of a doubt as to how serious we are about getting the rate of growth down, the case numbers down,” Berejiklian told a media conference.
A curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. would take effect from Monday in the 12 worst-affected council areas, covering about 40% of Sydney’s population of 5 million. Anyone caught entering those areas would be fined and required to self-isolate for 14 days.
With a similar curfew already in place in Melbourne, more than a quarter of Australia’s population will be confined to their homes at night from Monday, with the exception of essential workers.
NSW state reported 644 new infections on Friday, most of them in Sydney. Daily cases across NSW have topped 400 for the past seven days despite eight weeks of lockdown in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city.
With only about 28% of people above 16 years of age fully vaccinated, Australia has failed to contain the Sydney outbreak which has now seeded cases in other towns and cities across Australia as well as New Zealand.
Australia’s Victoria state recorded 55 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases and warned it was at risk of being swamped by infections.
“We are right on the edge of this getting away from us and it’s not because contact tracing aren’t doing everything they can. They are. It’s not because we didn’t lock down fast enough. We did,” Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Australia’s capital Canberra is also in lockdown, with 16 cases recorded in the past 24 hours out of a population of around 430,000, authorities said.
ON THE EDGE
Suicide prevention helpline Lifeline Australia said there had been a 40% rise in calls in recent days compared with pre-pandemic times.
“What that demonstrates is the level of anxiety, increasing levels of anger in the community, and of course stress and pressure,” Lifeline Australia Chair John Brogden told broadcaster ABC on Friday.
Australia has recorded just shy of 12,000 infections since the first Delta case was reported in Sydney on June 16. Four new deaths were confirmed in NSW on Friday, taking the total to 65 in the latest outbreak.
Even so, high vaccination levels among Australia’s most vulnerable mean the mortality rate is 0.54%, official data shows, below previous outbreaks.
Despite a third wave of infections from the Delta variant, Australia’s COVID-19 numbers are relatively low, with some 42,100 cases and 975 deaths.