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People walk near the Opera House in Sydney on Saturday. Photo: AFP

Coronavirus: Sydney widens lockdown as Delta variant cases rise; New Zealand suspends travel bubble

  • Sydney entered a two-week lockdown as authorities try to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in Australia’s largest city
  • More than 80 cases have been reported so far in an infection surge linked to a flight crew transported to a quarantine hotel from the airport
Sydney streets were nearly deserted on Saturday at the start of a beefed-up two-week lockdown to contain the highly contagious Delta coronavirus variant sweeping Australia’s largest city.

More than 80 Covid-19 cases have been reported so far in an infection surge linked to an international flight crew transported to a quarantine hotel from the airport.

The flare-up was a shock for a city that had returned to relative normality after months with very few local cases.

More than five million people across Sydney are subject to the movement restrictions, in addition to hundreds of thousands of others living in nearby coastal communities and the Blue Mountains towns that divide the city from Australia’s farming hinterland.

The lockdown had originally only applied to Sydney’s business district and affluent eastern suburbs, but the spread of the outbreak elsewhere pushed authorities to take a more drastic step.

As Delta sweeps the West, doubts creep in over Asia’s zero-Covid approach

“When you have a contagious variant, like the Delta virus, a three-day lockdown doesn’t work – if we’re going to do this we need to do it properly,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of New South Wales state.

“Transmissibility is at least double what previous variants have been so we do need to brace ourselves for a potentially large number of cases in the following days,” she added.

Health officials across the world have been alarmed by the rapid spread of the Delta variant first seen in India, noting instances of people passing on the virus during fleeting encounters in shops and then quickly infecting close family contacts.

The current restrictions require people to stay home for at least two weeks, only venturing out to purchase essential goods, obtain medical care, exercise, go to school or if they are unable to work from home.

Authorities in Sydney had earlier Saturday flagged a string of new possible virus exposure sites, including a popular city bar, in addition to the scores of businesses and public places already identified as risks.

Restrictions for the entire state outside the lockdown have been announced, including mandatory mask-wearing indoors and limits on gatherings.

“The Delta variant is proving to be a very formidable foe,” state health minister Brad Hazzard told reporters.

“No matter what defensive steps were taking at the moment, the virus seems to understand how to counter-attack.”

Anyone outside the lockdown who had visited Sydney since Monday was also instructed to self-isolate for 14 days.

New Zealand suspends travel bubble with Australia

New Zealand announced a three-day suspension of its quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia on Saturday, with the government citing “multiple” outbreaks of Covid-19 in Australian states and territories.

Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the suspension would give officials time to consider measures “to make the bubble safer, such as pre-departure testing for all flights” between the two countries.


Thailand plans to reopen Phuket to vaccinated tourists in July

Thailand plans to reopen Phuket to vaccinated tourists in July

Thailand clusters grow

Thailand reported 4,161 new cases in the past 24 hours, the highest single-day tally this month, as new clusters continued to emerge in Bangkok and its adjoining provinces.

While Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has resisted calls for a shutdown of the capital to quell the outbreak, his government on Friday ordered residential camps for construction workers in Bangkok and four other provinces with high numbers of virus cases to be locked down for a month from Monday.

Construction sites and prisons have emerged as the biggest clusters of infections in Thailand, which is suffering from its worst wave so far. More than 211,500 new cases have been detected since early April, official data showed on Saturday. The country also reported 51 new deaths, taking the cumulative tally to 1,870.

Indonesia reports record rise in cases

Indonesia recorded its biggest daily increase in coronavirus cases on Saturday with 21,095, taking the total tally to 2,093,962, according to data from the country’s health ministry.

The data showed 358 new deaths overnight, taking the total to 56,729.

Indonesia has the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths from Covid-19 in Southeast Asia.

Reporting by Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg, Reuters