SYDNEY (Reuters) -Downtown Sydney and the city’s eastern suburbs, which include Bondi Beach, will go into a one week lockdown from midnight Friday as authorities struggle to contain a spike in the highly contagious Delta COVID-19 virus variant in the city.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA), which represents doctors, said the move was not enough and called for a complete lockdown of the country’s biggest city to prevent the virus spreading and causing possible deaths.
People who live or have worked in the four local government council areas in Sydney in the last two weeks have been ordered to stay at home except for urgent reasons, New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
People are allowed to leave their homes only for essential work or education, medical reasons, grocery shopping or outdoor exercise.
“We don’t want to see this situation linger for weeks, we would like to see this situation end sooner rather than later,” Berejiklian said.
Authorities said they were “concerned” about a potential super-spreader event in a salon where three staff were infected and over 900 clients visited between June 15 and 23.
Officials have issued health alerts overnight for more than a dozen new venues scattered across Sydney, Australia’s largest city and home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, as total infections in the outbreak topped 60.
NSW has held off calls for a hard lockdown, instead imposing mandatory masks in all indoor locations in Sydney, including offices, restricted residents in seven council areas from leaving the city and limited home gatherings to five.
These restrictions, which were scheduled to end on Wednesday, are now extended until midnight on July 2.
Twenty-two local cases were reported on Friday, the biggest rise in infections since the first case was detected in Bondi last Wednesday in a limousine driver who transported an overseas airline crew. 19 of these cases are linked to known infections, while three are under investigation.
AMA President Omar Khorshid said the latest restrictions were “not quite enough” and urged officials to place the entire city under lockdown.
Khorshid warned officials the latest Sydney outbreak could get out of control and reminded officials the devastating wave of COVID-19 in Melbourne last year, which resulted in more than 800 deaths.
“What happened in Melbourne is they tried last year to get ahead slowly and were not able to get ahead of it and it resulted in deaths … that must not be allowed to happen in Sydney,” Khorshid said.
The outbreak has prompted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to postpone her trip to Australia scheduled in early July. “We are deferring the PM’s trade mission until later in the year,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said.
Lockdowns, swift contact tracing, strict social distancing rules and a high community compliance have largely helped Australia quash prior outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 30,400 cases and 910 deaths.
NSW has been effectively isolated from the rest of the country after other states reinstated tough border rules in response to the latest outbreak, including a total ban for visitors from Sydney’s virus-hit suburbs.
Neighbouring Queensland and Victoria authorities on Friday said several passengers from Sydney who attempted to enter the states by air without exemptions were sent back to Sydney.
Victoria reported no new local COVID-19 cases beyond the two announced on Thursday, likely linked to the Sydney outbreak. Two local cases were detected in Queensland overnight, both in home quarantine.
A conference of Australian Banking Association in Sydney where Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe was due to speak next week has been postponed by the organisers due to COVID-related curbs.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Michael Perry)