MELBOURNE: Australia's New South Wales state has increased COVID-19 testing to rein in a resurgence of coronavirus infections in Sydney, with other states and territories taking similar steps on concerns the outbreak might have spread.
A record of nearly 70,000 tests were conducted on Thursday (Dec 24) across New South Wales, home to about a quarter of Australia's 25 million population, officials said.
New South Wales recorded on Friday seven new COVID-19 cases, six linked to an outbreak in the suburbs of Sydney's northern beaches that has kept more than a quarter of million in some sort of lockdown for nearly a week. The cluster now stands at 104.
Officials have urged social distancing at gatherings, cutting down on Boxing Day shopping and getting tested.
"I do not think anyone is having a normal Christmas today across New South Wales," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a televised briefing. "Make sure you think very carefully about all the activities you are undertaking."
RAIN, COVID-19 KEEP BEACHGOERS AWAY FROM BONDI
With Australia's external borders closed and domestic tourism limited, Sydney residents were set to have the rare chance to have the iconic Bondi Beach - a traditional Christmas destination for thousands of people each year - nearly all to themselves.
But rainy weather and a recent outbreak of COVID-19 in the northern beach suburbs of Australia's largest city kept the numbers down.
At midday, only about 100 people were swimming, surfing and posing for photos in front of a Christmas tree set up by lifesavers.
"We have got to be present with the moment," said local resident Celio Agostinho.
"Bring a bit of happiness to the situation, bring a bit of light, bring a bit of hope, a bit of craziness and that's it. That's what Bondi is, that's what Christmas is all about."
The neighbouring state of Victoria, which has not seen a new COVID-19 case for eight straight weeks after battling a big outbreak for months, conducted more than 11,000 tests on Thursday.
The day before, a record of more than 96,000 COVID-19 tests were done across Australia.
"Well done Australia!" Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Twitter late on Thursday. "Let's all keep doing our bit to stay COVIDSafe."
Sydney has been virtually isolated from the rest of the country with state border closures or mandatory 14-day quarantine for arrivals from the city. The coronavirus outbreak has been largely contained to the affected suburbs, but there have been a handful of cases reported across Australia in the past week.
Australia has reported more than 28,000 coronavirus cases and 908 deaths so far, thanks in part to widespread testing, which is free at public health facilities.