Australian authorities extended a lockdown for Sydney’s Northern Beaches until at least Dec. 30 and urged the rest of the city to avoid crowds as a cluster of Covid-19 infections continues to grow.
Nine new cases were recorded overnight, taking the cluster’s total size to 116. Health officials remain concerned that the virus spread across the city in the days leading to Christmas, and have urged Sydneysiders to limit their activities in coming days and avoid Boxing Day shopping sales in the central business district.
“There are still concerns about the CBD and still concerns about people in the Northern Beaches who may unintentionally have spread the virus,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters Saturday. “Our strategy is to nip this in the bud as soon as we can.”
The outbreak is a blow to Australia, which had largely suppressed community transmission through rigorous testing and contact tracing, and by shuttering the international border — with all returned overseas travellers made to isolate for 14 days in quarantine hotels.
Some 250,000 people in the Northern Beaches have been told to remain at home except for essential medical care and provisions and not to allow visitors. Groups of up to 5 or 10 people will be able to gather outside for exercise, depending on whether they are in the worst-affected areas.
Authorities are still trying to pinpoint the source of the cluster that’s seen Sydney’s 5 million residents barred from traveling to other states and territories in the peak summer holiday season. Prior outbreaks in the states of Victoria and South Australia were linked to breaches at quarantine hotels that saw the virus leak into the community.
Meanwhile, New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard condemned Christmas Day revelers who gathered in their hundreds at Bronte Beach, which is in Sydney’s eastern suburbs and not part of the area currently under lockdown.
Police were deployed to separate the party-goers, who flouted social-distancing rules as they packed into a park behind the beach, with many wearing Santa hats.
Hazzard said the “absolutely appalling” scenes had the potential to become a super-spreader event.