MELBOURNE: Australian police patrolled the streets and blocked transport into the centre of Sydney on Saturday (Aug 21) to prevent a planned anti-lockdown protest as the country reported a record high daily number of new COVID-19 infections.
Officials reported a total of 886 cases in New South Wales and Victoria states, with the vast bulk in Sydney, which is the epicentre of the Delta variant-fuelled outbreak.
With other states and territories still to report daily numbers, new infections have already exceeded the previous single-day high for the pandemic of 754 cases on Thursday.
"We are in a very serious situation here in New South Wales," state Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. "There is no time now to be selfish, it's time to think of the broader community and your families."
Sydney, a city of more than 5 million people, has been in a strict lockdown for weeks now, failing so far to contain an outbreak that has spread across internal borders and as far as neighbouring New Zealand.
New South Wales officials reported three deaths and 516 people in hospital on Saturday. Of the 85 people in intensive care, 76 were unvaccinated, officials said.
At least 96 people were active in community during their infectious period, and there were a number of breaches of public health orders, all slowing the efforts to curtail the outbreak.
More than 1,500 police officers were deployed on Sydney's streets on Saturday, trains were ordered to bypass major city stations and rideshares were banned to the city centre as police tried to prevent an unauthorised anti-lockdown protest.
Australian media reported that a similar protest was planned in Melbourne, with Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews on Saturday expanding a lockdown in that city to entire state as he reported 61 new locally acquired cases.
At least 39 of the new Victoria cases were active in community while infectious, raising concerns over officials' ability to gain control over the outbreak. Eighteen people were in hospital, eight in intensive care and six on ventilators.
Australia's COVID-19 numbers are still relatively low compared to other developed countries, with just over 43,000 cases and 978 deaths, but the latest outbreak has seen a significant resurgence in cases.