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Australian COVID-19 cluster slows to five-day low

Australia's most populous state on Tuesday reported its lowest one-day rise in new COVID-19 cases in nearly a week, fuelling optimism that contact tracing and social distancing were working to bring a dangerous new outbreak in Sydney under control.

Australian COVID-19 cluster slows to five-day low

Vehicles queue while medical personnel administer tests for COVID-19 at the Bondi Beach drive-through testing centre as the city experiences an outbreak in Sydney, Australia on Dec 21, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Loren Elliott)

SYDNEY: Australia's most populous state on Tuesday (Dec 22) reported its lowest one-day rise in new COVID-19 cases in nearly a week, fuelling optimism that contact tracing and social distancing were working to bring a dangerous new outbreak in Sydney under control.

New South Wales (NSW) reported eight new locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, down on 15 reported one day earlier. Seven of the new cases were traced to a cluster in Sydney's northern beachside suburbs, officials said.

READ: Australia detects new UK coronavirus strain

"We only had eight cases of community transmission, seven of them linked directly to the Avalon cluster," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

The eighth case was a nurse who is believed to have caught the virus from a traveller returning from overseas, officials said.

Vehicles queue while medical personnel administer tests for COVID-19 at the Bondi Beach drive-through testing centre as the city experiences an outbreak in Sydney, Australia on Dec 21, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Loren Elliott)

The coronavirus cluster detected in Sydney's northern beaches suburbs last week has now grown to 90 cases as authorities battle to contain the flare-up in Australia's largest city just days before Christmas.

READ: Australia's Victoria Premier apologises for lax COVID-19 controls on hotel quarantine

Long queues have snaked outside testing sites across Sydney, with more than 83,000 people tested on Monday and Tuesday in New South Wales. 

Berejiklian praised the "outstanding" public response but said the virus threatened to continue spreading because those infected visited gyms, pubs and restaurants across Sydney.

"What remains our concern is that even though the case numbers are relatively low compared to what we've experienced in previous days, the number of venues that are impacted grows," she said.

Berejiklian said the two-day dip in case numbers appeared to show health strategies were paying off but cautioned that the situation was still "evolving" and case numbers could "creep back up".

An intense contact tracing effort is underway, with chief health officer Kerry Chant saying "many thousands" of people have been ordered to isolate at home for 14 days.

The state government locked down the northern beaches, home to more than 250,000 people, for five days from Saturday, prompting other states to close their borders and throwing Christmas plans for thousands of families into chaos.

The restrictions are set to be reviewed on Wednesday.

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Source: AGENCIES/ad

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