Sydney: Australia's biggest city Sydney posted a record one-day rise in local Covid-19 cases last week and warned the outbreak would get worse, as authorities sought military help to enforce a lockdown of 6 million people poised to enter its sixth week. Australia has struggled to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in and around Sydney in recent weeks, which threatens to push the country's $1.5 trillion economy into its second recession in as many years.
Despite an extended lockdown of Sydney, the state capital, New South Wales recorded 239 locally acquired cases, the biggest daily rise since the pandemic begun. "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 Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Berejiklian said one more person had died from Covid, taking the death count from the current outbreak to 13 and the overall national total to 921. With little sign that recent restrictions are reducing case numbers, Berejiklian said new curbs would be imposed on the southwestern and western areas of Sydney where the majority of Covid cases are being found.
More than two million residents in eight Sydney hotspots will now be forced to wear masks outdoors and must stay within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes. With even tighter restrictions set to begin, New South Wales Police said it had asked for 300 military personnel to help enforce lockdown orders.
"With an increase in enforcement activity over the coming week, I have now made a formal request to the prime minister for (Australian Defence Force) personnel to assist with that operation," New South Wales Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said. It was not clear what the military personnel would be doing if deployed, but neighbouring Victoria state used a similar number of troops to assist with running testing centres and checking to see whether people under strict stay at home orders were abiding by the requests.
Berejiklian extended the Sydney lockdown by another month, but allowed the majority of construction projects to resume as long as workers do not come into contact with residents. The restrictions are likely to take a heavy economic toll, with New South Wales accounting for more than a third of Australia's economy. Berejiklian said restrictions need to remain as too few people in Sydney are vaccinated amid tight supplies of Pfizer vaccines, which Canberra had hoped to inoculate everyone under 60 years old.
All adults in Sydney have now been urged to seek an AstraZeneca vaccine. But citing rare blood clots, many are reluctant and would prefer to wait several months when Australia is expected to receive additional Pfizer supplies. Only about 17% of people above 16 years fully vaccinated in New South Wales.