SYDNEY: Australian authorities are rushing to track close contacts of several positive COVID-19 cases in Victoria linked to Sydney's Delta variant outbreak, amid concerns of a major flare-up in infections and further tough restrictions.
Dozens of new venues in Melbourne including a shopping centre, two public transport routes and a sporting club were listed late on Wednesday (Jul 14) as virus-exposed locations, adding pressure on authorities to tighten restrictions.
On Wednesday, mandatory mask rules indoors were reintroduced for Victoria's more than 6 million residents after the state recorded 10 new cases. No new cases were reported on Thursday.
Curbs on home gatherings and limits for patrons in indoor venues are being considered by the state's authorities, Australian media reported on Thursday.
Australia is battling to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta virus strain in its largest city, Sydney. The virus crossed borders into Victoria and South Australia after an infectious team of furniture movers from Sydney visited both states for work.
In South Australia, authorities have identified a third venue visited by the workers, while two regional towns in New South Wales (NSW), including one near the border with Victoria and about 500km southwest of Sydney, were on alert after the team stopped at service stations.
In NSW, authorities extended a lockdown in state capital Sydney on Wednesday by at least 14 days after three weeks of initial restrictions failed to quash the country's biggest outbreak of COVID-19 this year.
SLOWDOWN IN SYDNEY
Australian authorities reported a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases in Sydney on Thursday.
NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said case numbers would need to drop significantly for the city of 5 million to get out of lockdown, given 28 out of the 65 new infections reported were people who were infectious while still active in the community.
"Whilst the case numbers are bouncing around, we are seeing a stabilisation. They are not growing exponentially," Berejiklian said in Sydney.
The 65 new cases represent a decrease from the 97 recorded a day earlier.
Sydney's lockdown started on Jun 26 and will remain in place until at least Jul 30. Authorities say restrictions will only ease when the number of newly reported cases that were circulating in the community while infectious were close to zero.
Total infections across the harbour city now stand at more than 900 and two deaths have been reported, the first for the country this year.
With just over 31,400 cases and 912 deaths since the pandemic began, Australia has handled the COVID-19 crisis better than many other developed countries although its sluggish immunisation drive has taken some of the shine off this success.
About 12 per cent Australia's adult population of around 20.5 million have been fully vaccinated, with officials pointing to changing medical advice for vaccines and supply constraints.