By Jason Scott and Georgina Mckay
Jun 24, 2021, 2:56 AM – Updated on Jun 24, 2021, 5:58 AM
Word Count: 887
In a balancing act that’s being backed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday said the city’s current restrictions were correct, even as the cluster has grown to around 40 cases and now includes a lawmaker from her own state government.
On Wednesday, the premier barred about 1 million of Sydney’s population of 6 million from leaving the city, while authorities are ramping up policing of people defying mandatory mask rules. Other states and territories have now implemented travel restrictions against residents of the city, and a travel bubble between New South Wales and New Zealand has been suspended.
‘Covid Zero’ Havens Find Reopening Harder Than Taming Virus
“Since the pandemic has started, this is perhaps the scariest period that New South Wales is going through,” Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday. “It is a very contagious variant but at the same time we are at this stage comfortable that the settings that are in place are the appropriate settings.”
The outbreak has placed increased pressure on the nation’s “Covid zero” strategy, designed to eliminate the virus from the community, as the infectious delta variant creates more leaks from hotels used to quarantine Australians returning from overseas. Those outbreaks have triggered localized lockdowns that are hampering the economic recovery.
Earlier on Thursday, Morrison said calls from some sections of the business community to abandon a Covid zero strategy would mean that “we would have to be comfortable with 5,000 cases a day. Now, I don’t think Australians would be happy with that.”
Morrison’s plea to avoid lockdown came as New South Wales state Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said he had tested positive for Covid, saying he believed he contracted it from a pizza cafe on Monday. Several state lawmakers have been forced into isolation.
Australia and New Zealand are among the handful of Asia-Pacific places where strict containment is a growing economic disadvantage as highly-vaccinated countries like the U.S., U.K. and parts of Europe begin to open up. Other Covid zero places, which include Singapore, Hong Kong and China, are facing a growing backlash as the measures that kept fatalities low are now leaving their populations isolated.
After it was discovered that an infectious Australian tourist visited the capital city Wellington over the weekend, authorities there limited the size of gatherings and imposed new social distancing restrictions. New Zealand on Thursday recorded no new cases in the community from the previous day.
Both Australia and New Zealand have struggled with securing and rolling out vaccines. The lack of infections has made Australians hesitant around receiving jabs, particularly given concern about blood clots from the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine that’s being given to people over 60.
The country of more than 25 million people has administered shots to cover 13.2% of its population, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, versus the U.S. at almost 50% and the U.K. at 56%. New Zealand has inoculated just 9.1%, the tracker shows.
Morrison is under pressure to ramp up the nation’s tardy vaccine rollout. While the federal government has abandoned its original October target to inoculate the population, it’s also said it won’t reopen borders until its safe to do so, meaning Australia is likely to be isolated from most of the world into next year.
Since an initial nationwide lockdown imposed when the pandemic began in March 2020, Berejiklian hasn’t enforced a strict city-wide lockdown for Sydney, even as the neighboring state of Victoria has endured more than 120 days of tough restrictions.
In the eastern and inner west areas of Sydney mainly affected by the outbreak so far, households are limited to hosting five guests, while masks are now mandatory in indoor venues including workplaces and shops for the first time in the city since the pandemic began. Since Wednesday, police have issued about 150 caution notices to people for not wearing masks.
According to the Australian newspaper on Thursday, epidemiologist Tony Blakely said a lockdown in Sydney would be “longer and harder” if the Berejiklian government delayed the decision, with the current settings leaving it open to further chains of community transmission.
–With assistance from Tracy Withers.