Tough New Year’s Eve restrictions are being put in place as Australia’s biggest city struggles to contain growing coronavirus clusters.
Sydney's COVID-19 outbreak has been described by health officials as “a bit of a roller coaster ride.” Australia’s biggest city accounts for most of the estimated 204 active infections across the country.
Parts of its northern coastal suburbs, where a cluster of cases emerged about two weeks ago, remain in lockdown. Infections have been detected in other parts of the city.
The authorities have banned large gatherings on New Year’s Eve to “avoid super spreading events.” Sydney’s famous fireworks display will go ahead, but crowds won’t be allowed to gather around the harbor to watch.
Gatherings have been limited, and visits to nursing homes banned for at least a week to try to curb the spread of the virus.
“Please, the last thing we want is to welcome in 2021 with a super-spreading event,” said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. “2021, all of us are hoping, will be easier on us than 2020 and let us start the year off on a positive foot by doing the right thing, by respecting the restrictions that are in place, but also demonstrating common sense.”
Experts are calling for the state government to impose a citywide lockdown as infections grow.
In response, other Australian states and territories are restricting travel for residents from Sydney.
In Victoria, six coronavirus cases have been reported in the past two days, which authorities have linked to infections further north in Sydney.
Residents in Victoria are being urged not to travel to neighboring New South Wales, and masks will become mandatory indoors. Residents are not required to wear a mask inside their own homes, but they must if they visit friends or go shopping.
Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said a swift response to the outbreak is needed.
“Now that we have got links to the New South Wales outbreaks here in Victoria, we are having to respond really quickly to get on top of that, and a part of that is to make sure that as the situation seemingly continues to deteriorate in New South Wales that we respond appropriately,” he said.
Australia has recorded 28,380 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Its just over 200 active estimated COVID-19 cases is small by many international standards, but in the context of Australia, a country that has taken a very cautious approach to the virus, the number is cause for alarm.
With fewer than 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic, Australia has fared better than many other developed nations.
Health officials in Sydney have blamed “an avalanche of complacency” for recent outbreaks.