Delta spreads in Sydney as Australia widens COVID-19 restrictions


FILE PHOTO: A lone woman, wearing a protective face mask, walks across an unusually quiet city centre bridge on the first day of a lockdown as the state of Victoria looks to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian officials warned Sydney residents on Friday to brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases after the country's largest city logged record infections for the second straight day despite a weeks-long lockdown to stamp out an outbreak of Delta variant.

"Just based on the trend in the last few days and where things are going, I am expecting higher case numbers in the next few days and I just want everyone to be prepared for that," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital.

Sydney reported a record 279 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, up from the previous high of 259 the day before. New South Wales reported a record 291 cases, up from 262. One more person has died, raising the state total to 22 during the latest outbreak, all in Sydney.

The dead person was an unvaccinated woman in her 60s who died in a Sydney hospital after contracting the coronavirus from a healthcare worker. There are 304 cases in hospitals in New South Wales, with 50 people in intensive care, 22 of whom require ventilation.

Of particular concern is the growing number of people positive with the highly infectious Delta strain moving around in the community, particularly in Sydney's southwestern suburbs. Around one-fifth of Friday's cases have spent time outside while infectious.

Officials in the neighbouring state of Victoria, which on Thursday night entered its sixth lockdown since the pandemic began, warned the state was "in a precarious position" as officials try to trace the source of several unlinked new cases.

"We have many lines of inquiry actively underway as to where these new cases have been and any further exposure sites," state Health Minister Martin Foley said in a media conference.

Faced with another lockdown within weeks, an anti-lockdown protest erupted in state capital Melbourne on Thursday night.

Victoria reported six locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Friday, down from eight a day earlier, with all linked but not in quarantine during their infectious period.

In Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, the authorities reported 10 new cases, down from 16 the day before, and added that they were hopeful a lockdown would be lifted as planned on Sunday since all but two cases were isolated before testing positive.

LOCKDOWN WOES

More than 60% of Australia's 25 million citizens are in hard lockdowns on Friday to try to contain latest surge, including the country's three largest cities - Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

Snap lockdowns, strict border controls and swift contact tracing have helped Australia keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just over 35,600 cases and 933 deaths. But recent stop-and-start lockdowns amid a sluggish vaccination rollout, with only about 21% of people above 16 fully vaccinated, have frustrated residents.

Australia has also enacted tough border controls requiring residents to apply for exemptions to leave and incoming overseas travellers, capped at around 3,000 a week, must go through a two-week mandatory quarantine.

The rules will further tighten from Aug. 11 by removing an automatic exemption for citizens and permanent residents living outside of Australia to leave, a government statement tabled in the parliament on Thursday showed.

The change would require all citizens and permanent residents living outside the country to apply for permission to exit.

(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger)

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