With an outbreak of the Delta variant spreading rapidly, Australian officials on Saturday introduced a strict two-week lockdown for all of greater Sydney and the regions surrounding the nation’s largest city.
The first full-city lockdown for Sydney since early 2020 reflects a sudden rise in concern among officials in the state of New South Wales, who had been hoping that contact tracers and targeted isolation would be enough to keep the more contagious variant under control.
Instead, after initially resisting a full lockdown, officials said on Saturday that strict citywide stay-home orders were necessary because they had found several additional chains of transmission around the city among people who had been infectious for days.
The virus, said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, was simply moving too quickly through the population. Over the past 10 days, a cluster that began with an airport limousine driver in Sydney, a city of five million, has jumped to nearly 100 cases, with dozens more expected over the coming days.
“We don’t want to impose burdens unless we absolutely have to, Ms. Berejiklian told a news conference on Saturday. “Unfortunately, we have to.”
She said that a shorter lockdown would not be enough to regain control over transmission, describing the Delta variant as spreading far faster than other strains of the coronavirus.
“Unless you stay a step ahead of this virus, it can very easily get out of control,” she said.
Starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday, people across the Sydney metropolitan area will only be allowed to leave their homes to exercise, seek medical attention, care for loved ones, buy food or carry out other essential activities. The lockdown is scheduled to end on July 9, but could be extended.
Australia is one of many countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region that continue to struggle with ups and downs of the coronavirus, mainly because of new variants and a slow rollout of vaccines, which have been in short supply outside the United States, Europe and China.
Health officials have asked for extra doses from Australia’s federal government, and demand for the vaccines has skyrocketed after months of complacency. But most people in Sydney remain unvaccinated, and nationwide, fewer than a quarter of Australians have received even one dose, according to New York Times data.
Of particular concern in Sydney are a pricey hair salon that saw 900 clients while at least a few employees were infectious, and a seafood wholesaler where a delivery driver tested positive after several days of transporting fish across the city.