People in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, have been ordered not to leave the metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to contain a number of new coronavirus cases of the Delta variant – a development that has prompted neighbouring New Zealand to raise its alert level following possible exposure from a tourist from Australia.
New South Wales (NSW) State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the stricter curbs – affecting about five million people who live and work in the city – on Wednesday.
“Clearly this is an evolving situation,”
Berejiklian said at a news conference.
The new rules took effect at 4pm Sydney time (06:00 GMT) and will remain in force for a week.
“Given what has occurred the NSW government will be taking action today to limit the spread of what is a very contagious variant of COVID.”
NSW health minister Brad Hazzard described the situation as “a very real and present danger” for the city as a cluster first identified in the beach surburb of Bondi grew to 21 cases with eight confirmed on Wednesday morning.
Most of the newly confirmed cases were traced to a single event, where a mass gathering was held on Tuesday.
“This is a new and more dangerous version of the virus,”
Hazzard said during the news conference.
The new restrictions include a limit on household visitors to five people, including children, Berejiklian said.
Mask wearing, which had already been reinstated on Friday, will be extended with people required to wear masks in all indoor settings outside the home and at organised outdoor events. The measures also include capacity limits on public transport and in gym classes, while singing at indoor venues, including places of worship, will not be allowed.
Authorities are also urging people to come forward for testing.
“If we adhere to the health orders today, we will have a good chance on getting on top of this outbreak,”
Berejiklian told reporters.
New Zealand on alert
As of Wednesday, Australia had recorded more than 30,300 cases and 910 deaths.
The country has been among the world’s most successful in containing the pandemic, allowing it to reopen its border to New Zealand.
But the new cases are testing the travel bubble between the neighbours.
On Wednesday, New Zealand raised its pandemic alert level in Wellington to level two, which is one level short of a lockdown.
Earlier, an Australian tourist who visited the capital city over the weekend tested positive for COVID when they returned to Sydney.
“These are precautionary measures which will remain in place while we contact trace and test all of those we need to,”
New Zealand’s COVID response minister Chris Hipkins said.
Under the elevated alert level, offices, schools and businesses are still allowed to open, but people are required to follow social distancing rules.
Gatherings of more than 100 people are banned, including weddings and other parties.
New Zealand has a population of five million people, and has recorded a total of 2,720 cases and 26 deaths. The country has posted a 98.2 percent recovery rate.
In Australia itself, Queensland and Victoria have both closed their borders to people from many parts of Sydney as a result of the new cases.