Australia steps up testing to rein in COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Medical workers administer tests at a drive-through COVID-19 test center in Sydney

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s New South Wales state has stepped up COVID-19 testing to get a resurgence of coronavirus infections in Sydney, where other states and territories are taking similar steps to worry about the outbreak having spread.

A record nearly 70,000 tests were conducted on Thursday across New South Wales (NSW), home to about a quarter of Australia’s 25 million inhabitants, officials said.

NSW on Friday registered seven new cases of coronavirus, six linked to an outbreak in the suburbs of Sydney’s northern beaches that have held more than a quarter of a million in some form of lockdown for nearly a week. The cluster is now 104.

Rain has kept people away from beaches and at home on Christmas Day, but officials called for social distancing at gatherings, cut down on Boxing Day shopping and were tested.

“I do not think anyone has a normal Christmas today across NSW,” Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said in a televised address. “Make sure you think very carefully about all the activities you do.”

Neighboring Victoria, which has not seen a new COVID-19 case in eight weeks after battling a major outbreak for several months, conducted more than 11,000 tests on Thursday.

The day before, a record more than 96,000 COVID-19 tests were performed across Australia.

“Well done Australia!” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter late on Thursday. “Let us all continue to do our part to remain COVIDSafe.”

Sydney has been virtually isolated from the rest of the country with state border closures or mandatory 14-day quarantine for arrival from the city. The coronavirus outbreak has largely been limited to the affected suburbs, but a handful of cases have been reported across Australia in the past week.

Australia has so far reported just over 28,000 cases of coronavirus and 908 deaths, thanks in part to widespread testing, which is free at public health facilities.

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