Sydney and some surrounding areas will enter a harsh two-week Covid-19 lockdown on Saturday as authorities struggle to control a rapidly spreading outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant which has grown to 80 cases.
More than a million people in Sydney city center and the eastern suburbs of Australia’s largest city were already stranded due to the outbreak, but health officials said they had to extend the curbs after more infections have been recorded, the sites of exposure increase beyond the initial areas of concern.
“While we don’t want to impose charges unless we absolutely have to, unfortunately this is a situation where we have to,” said New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian .
Download the NBC News app for comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak
Australia has been more successful in managing the pandemic than many other advanced economies thanks to swift border closures, social distancing rules and high compliance, reporting just over 30,400 cases and 910 deaths from Covid-19.
But the country has struggled to roll out its vaccination, and states have been plagued by small epidemics in recent months. These were contained through quick contact tracing, isolating thousands of people at a time, or strict lockdowns.
Saturday’s lockdown in New South Wales will also include areas of the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong, which surround Sydney.
Under the rules in effect until July 9, people can leave their homes for essential work, medical care, study or shopping. The rest of the state will have limits on public gatherings and masks will be mandatory indoors.
“There was no point doing it for three or five days because it wouldn’t have done the job,” Berejiklian said at a press briefing.
His conservative state government was reluctant to impose the lockdown, but a growing number of health experts have called for it, as Australia remains largely unvaccinated.
On Saturday, the case of a worker at the Granites gold mine in the Tanami Desert, Northern Territory, prompted the territory’s authorities to order the isolation of more than 1,600 people in three states that had had contacts with the worker.
The mine, owned by Newmont Corp, was closed.