Hundreds of military personnel have been called up to help enforce a COVID lockdown in Australia’s biggest city.
Sydney has remained under stay-at-home orders since late June as the country – which has largely kept infections under control during the pandemic – struggles to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
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On Thursday, New South Wales reported a one-day record rise in COVID cases of 239 – the biggest increase in Australia‘s most populous state since the pandemic began.
Officials warned the outbreak is poised to get worse.
Now, stricter lockdown measures will begin on Friday, and residents in Sydney’s eight hotspots will be required to wear masks outdoors and told they must stay within three miles of their homes.
New South Wales Police said it has asked for 300 military personnel to help enforce the measures. It comes after thousands of protestors marched on the streets, carrying signs demanding “freedom”.
Victoria and South Australia came out of lockdown on Wednesday after managing to contain smaller outbreaks.
“We can only assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better given the quantity of people infectious in the community,” New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Mr Berejiklian said the restrictions needed to remain in place as too few people are fully vaccinated amid a national shortage of Pfizer jabs.
Australia relies on two vaccines – AstraZeneca and Pfizer.
The government advises those aged under-60 to be given Pfizer, but adults have now been urged to seek an AstraZeneca vaccine with reports the country has a stockpile of three million doses.
Yet many are reluctant to do so, as confidence in the Oxford jab – which has been vital the UK’s rollout – has been undermined by mixed messaging about a very rare risk of blood clots.
Only about 17% of people aged above 16 are fully vaccinated in NSW.
Meanwhile, one more person has died from COVID in Australia, taking the death count from the current outbreak to 13 and the overall national total to 921.
More than 2,800 cases have now been detected and 182 people are in hospital. Of these, 54 are in intensive care, with 22 requiring a ventilator.
The extended restrictions, now in their sixth week, threaten to push Australia into its second recession in as many years just as other major economies are starting to enjoy signs of recovery.
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The national economy is expected to shrink in the September quarter, but the ability to avoid technical recession would depend on if NSW can avoid a longer lockdown, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
The cluster first began when a limousine driver tested positive for the highly infectious variant, after driving a US aircrew from Sydney airport.