SYDNEY: Sydney reported a record daily number of new coronavirus infections on Thursday (Aug 5), as Victoria state said it will enter a snap one-week lockdown as Australia struggles to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Sydney, Australia's largest city and the capital of New South Wales state, is nearing the seventh week of its own nine-week lockdown. It reported five deaths and a record 262 infections in the past 24 hours.
Victoria state said it has detected eight new cases, the bulk of which could not be traced back to a known infection, triggering a one-week lockdown for the state's more than 6 million people from later on Thursday evening.
"Nothing about this is optional. This is a lockdown, it will be enforced, for the best of reasons and the best purposes, to bring these case numbers down, under control so we can once again be open," Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Australia will within hours have its three most populous cities - Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane - in hard lockdowns, threatening to drive the country's A$2 trillion (US$1.5 trillion) economy into a second recession in as many years.
Brisbane reported another 16 COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the same as the previous two days. It has been under a lockdown since Jul 31.
The Hunter region in New South Wales, home to the state's second-largest city of Newcastle, will also be locked down from Thursday evening after six new cases.
Officials suspect the virus in the Hunter region spread from a beach party near Newcastle after people travelled from Sydney, an apparent violation of the city's lockdown.
"Our strongest focus ... is getting to the bottom of how the disease was transmitted and introduced into Newcastle," New South Wales chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters in Sydney.
With around 35,200 COVID-19 cases and 932 deaths, Australia has avoided the high caseloads of other developed countries but its vaccination figures are among the lowest, with only 20 per cent of its population aged above 16 fully vaccinated.
Four of the five people who died in Sydney were unvaccinated while one had one dose, state health officials said, as they implored residents to get inoculated as early as possible.
They included three men in their 60s, one man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak in New South Wales to 21.
Health experts expect the country to endure stop-and-start lockdowns until it reaches a high vaccination coverage, but lawmakers are under mounting pressure to ease restrictions for those unable to work.
"I'm a fortunate one to be in essential service, so I'm still working, still getting paid. For other people it's a mixed bag. Some people are taking it really well and others not so well," Keirom O'Donoughue, a pharmacy salesperson in one of the worst-affected suburbs of Bankstown in Sydney, told Reuters.