By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous state on Monday reported the lowest increase in new COVID-19 cases in three days in one day, cautiously optimistic that authorities had an outbreak in Sydney’s northern beach towns.
New South Wales (NSW) said 15 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, which is lower than the 36 infections detected a day earlier, and brought the total cases to the northern strands outbreak to 83.
NSW Premier Gladys Brejiklian said it was too early to say a major eruption had been averted as northeastern suburbs entered on the third day of a five-day shutdown in up to Christmas.
“I am pleased with what we have seen overnight, but again, it is unstable,” Brejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
The government would provide an update by Wednesday on “what Christmas and the next few days will look like” in terms of additional containment measures beyond those already imposed on the northeastern suburbs, she added.
More than 80 locations, including cafes, gyms, casinos and supermarkets across Sydney, were identified as being visited by people with confirmed cases. Authorities urged everyone who attended the venues to be tested and isolate themselves immediately.
NSW on Friday ordered more than 250,000 people in Sydney’s northern beach area to be shut down after the cluster of cases arose, centered around two eateries and entertainment venues in the suburb of Avalon by the sea.
These restrictions are expected to be revised on Wednesday, though other states and territories quickly moved to close borders on all of Sydney’s 5 million inhabitants and throw Christmas plans into disarray.
Dozens of domestic flights due to leave Sydney were canceled on Monday.
“A number of flights will be canceled … we will contact customers who are directly affected by any flight changes,” Qantas Airways Ltd said in an email statement.
With upward travel routes, Australian states and territories warned their own residents to leave NSW and return quickly if they wanted to avoid mandatory quarantine.
Australian police and military personnel are deployed at many state borders to enforce the new rules, and lawmakers warned people to expect long delays across state borders.
NSW is desperate to contain the spread and has opened dozens of new test sites, some of which run 24 hours a day. NSW health authorities said more than 38,000 tests had been performed in the last 24 hours, a new record.
The source of the infection is unknown, although Brejiklian said tests showed the strain of COVID-19 found in Sydney’s Northeast was almost identical to that found in an unnamed United States aviation official. who arrived in Sydney on 1 December.
Australia has largely avoided high levels of coronavirus compared to other developed countries, but the new cluster has triggered fears of a broader outbreak. The country has registered nearly 28,200 cases and 908 deaths since the pandemic began.
Sydney’s eruption has forced the closure of the annual Sydney-to-Hobart voyage for the first time in 76 years, and other cities are preparing to host the cricket test between Australia and India, which is scheduled to start on Sydney Cricket Ground on 1 January. 7.
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