SYDNEY: Australia's New South Wales state on Thursday (Jul 8) reported its biggest daily rise in locally acquired cases of COVID-19 for the year as officials struggle to stamp out a growing cluster of the highly infectious Delta variant.
The spike in cases after two weeks of a hard lockdown in Sydney, Australia's largest city, raised the prospect of a further extension in restrictions, with officials blaming illegal family visits for a continuing rise in infections.
New South Wales reported 38 new local cases, up from 27 a day earlier, with 11 of those having spent time in the community while infectious.
"We don't want to prolong the lockdown, we don't want to see Sydney or New South Wales going in and out of lockdown until we have the vast majority of our population vaccinated," state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
Berejiklian implored residents to limit visits to family as data suggested that the virus was spreading during such meetings, and urged people with flu symptoms to take their entire family for COVID-19 tests due to the highly transmissible Delta strain.
She said she had no plans to prolong the current lockdown beyond Jul 16, but warned it would be "an unrealistic assumption" to control the Delta variant amid low vaccination rates and people flouting social distancing rules.
Just over 9 per cent of people in NSW have been fully vaccinated, while about 29 per cent have had a first dose.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government would ensure adequate economic support if the lockdown was extended, saying the state was on "shifting sands" and urged patience.
"I know people are getting tired ... getting frustrated. This is a virus we are dealing with, and it tends to set its own rules," Morrison said during a televised media conference.
A strict stay-at-home order has been in force in Sydney, home to a fifth of the country's 25 million population, since Jun 26, restricting people's movements and limiting gatherings.
The Australian Medical Association (AMA), meanwhile, warned New South Wales authorities to avoid lifting any lockdown rules before totally suppressing the Delta outbreak.
"There is no alternative to elimination for New South Wales ... nowhere in the world has any community been able to live with Delta without very significant levels of vaccination," AMA President Omar Khorshid said.
The latest infections took Sydney's total in this outbreak to nearly 400 since the first case was detected more than three weeks ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries in keeping COVID-19 numbers low, with just under 30,900 cases and 910 deaths, however, the country's slow vaccination roll-out has taken some of the shine off this success.