Sydney Covid-19 cases ease amid tightening of lockdown rules

Australia’s largest city, Sydney, on Friday reported a slight decline in locally acquired Covid-19 cases amid further tightening of restrictions in the worst-hit suburbs, with the military called in to help enforce lockdown rules.

Millions in Sydney began one of the country’s harshest lockdowns since the pandemic began on Friday after nearly five weeks of increasingly stringent restrictions failed to quell an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.

Although cases declined for the first time in nearly a week, State Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned that cases could rise again due to the growing number of Delta-positive people moving into the community. “We hope to see those numbers bounce back,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

New South Wales reported 170 new local cases, most of them in the state capital, Sydney, down from the record of 239 set a day earlier. Of the new cases, 42 spent time in the community while contagious and 53 remained under investigation.

Berejiklian also implored people to avoid attending an anti-closure protest planned for Saturday in Sydney, warning that they may be giving their loved ones “a death sentence.” Thousands of people joined a protest against the blockade in the city last weekend, prompting condemnation from the police and politicians who labeled it a potential “super spread” event.

As the city of five million heads into its sixth week of prolonged lockdown, which runs through Aug. 28, the stricter new rules will affect eight local council areas, where the majority of new infections have been reported. More than two million people must stay within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes and must wear masks when they go out.

The police have been given sweeping powers to shut down businesses that break the rules, while the military will begin helping police ensure compliance with the restrictions starting Monday. The military, who will not be armed and will be under the command of the state police, will receive training this weekend. Officials are increasingly concerned about the strain on healthcare systems and hospitalizations and deaths are expected to rise from the fast-moving Delta variant.

A total of 187 cases are in the hospital, 58 in intensive care, 24 of which require ventilation. So far thirteen deaths have been recorded in the latest outbreak. Later on Friday, the country’s national cabinet, the group of national and state leaders, will meet to discuss the country’s exit strategies from the pandemic.

Australia has handled the coronavirus crisis much better than many other developed countries, with just over 34,000 cases and 923 deaths, but it has been among the lowest in vaccine administration.

With around 18 per cent of people over the age of 16 fully vaccinated, Australia’s immunization campaign ran into several hurdles due to the change in medical advice for AstraZeneca dosages due to blood clot problems and supply limitations for the Pfizer injections.

Meanwhile, the state of Queensland is on alert after a 17-year-old student contracted the virus, puzzling officials. “(This) is quite concerning because I’m struggling to understand how he got it,” state health director Jeanette Young told reporters.