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COVID-19 Christmas Restrictions Temporarily Relaxed as Sydney Cluster Grows

People wait in a line at a COVID-19 testing station on the northern beaches in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 21, 2020.
People wait in a line at a COVID-19 testing station on the northern beaches in Sydney, Australia, Dec. 21, 2020.

Australian authorities say coronavirus restrictions will be eased slightly for three days over the Christmas holiday as a cluster of infections continues to grow in Sydney.

The cluster of coronavirus infections in Sydney, the state capital of New South Wales, has grown to 97 cases, according to health officials. Eight new cases were reported Thursday

The outbreak has prompted authorities to impose a patchwork of COVID-19 restrictions across Australia’s biggest city. Parts of Sydney’s northern beaches region, which is linked to a group of infections, remain in lockdown. But small gatherings will be allowed for three days over Christmas. Larger household gatherings of up to ten people, excluding children, will be permitted in other districts of the city.

The source of the Sydney cluster of infections is not yet known. Tens of thousands of tests have been carried out, and anyone returning a positive result or who has been in close contact with an infected person must go into isolation at home.

“Over the next few days there will be modest changes to restrictions over the Christmas period," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. "We appreciate what a difficult time this is for everybody across the state, in particular our thoughts are with those who are already in isolation because as we know when you are in isolation you cannot have contact with anybody for 14-days depending on when you started that isolation. So, our thoughts are with those people who will be in isolation over the Christmas period.”

There have been almost no locally transmitted COVID-19 infections reported elsewhere in Australia in recent days.

But the outbreak in Sydney has the nation on edge. All Australian states and territories have imposed travel bans on residents from Sydney. Police checkpoints have been put in place on the border of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. Many flights have also been suspended.

Australia’s coronavirus strategy has relied on mass testing, sophisticated contact tracing, strict lockdowns and the closure in March of its international borders to foreign travelers.

Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed home but face mandatory hotel quarantine when they arrive.

Australians seeking to travel overseas during the pandemic need government approval to travel.