Australia Covid update: outbreaks sweep nation as NSW reports 30 new infections, and Perth, NT and Qld record cases

New South Wales reported 30 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday as a string of new outbreaks across Australia forced states and territories to introduce sweeping new restrictions, and prompted urgent calls for vaccine eligibility to be widened.

On the first full day of lockdown for the entire greater Sydney region since May 2020, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the city to prepare for a further increase in cases over the coming days as the Bondi cluster which sparked the new outbreak grew to 110.

“Given how contagious [this strain] of the virus is we do anticipate over next few days case numbers are likely to increase even over what we have seen in the last few days,” she said.

“I said that this was the scariest time since the pandemic started and that’s proven to be the case.”

The positive news for the state: all 30 of the new cases recorded to 8pm were linked to the Bondi cluster, and 14 had been in isolation for at least part of the period in which they were infectious. Only two cases remain unlinked but both of those are from the city’s eastern suburbs, meaning, as chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant said, they are at least “geographically” linked.

There were however several new exposure sites were released just after noon. Among them was the vaccination hub at Sydney’s Westmead hospital, the Marrickville Metro shopping centre and the Pacific Square shopping centre in the beachside suburb of Maroubra.

Of particular concern for authorities is an outbreak linked to the Great Ocean Foods seafood wholesaler, also in Marrickville. Delivery drivers linked to the business had previously tested positive, and 10 of the new cases on Sunday were connected to it.

People exercise on the boardwalk at Bondi Beach in Sydney on Sunday during lockdown.
People exercise on the boardwalk at Bondi Beach in Sydney on Sunday during lockdown. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Sydney’s lockdown is politically bruising for Berejiklian and the NSW government, which had staked much of its reputation during the pandemic on its ability to handle outbreaks without needing to resort to stay-at-home measures. But on Sunday the premier insisted she had not delayed announcing a full city-wide lockdown.

“I do not regret a single decision we have taken because it has been based on health advice and also when you are making a major decision to lock down millions and millions of people, you have to make sure it is based on health advice,” she said.

An empty Kings Cross on Saturday night as a lockdown was imposed on greater Sydney.
An empty Kings Cross on Saturday night after a lockdown was imposed on greater Sydney. Photograph: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Outside of NSW, Sunday was marked by a string of new outbreaks across the country announced in a flurry of press conferences. In the Northern Territory, chief minister Michael Gunner made the dramatic announcement of a snap 48-hour lockdown for Darwin, Palmerston and Litchfield after four new cases were recorded in a 24-hour period.

All four cases are linked to a mine worker at the Granites Mine who tested positive on Saturday. Two of the new cases are on the site in the Tanami desert, one has travelled to New South Wales and is in isolation, and one flew from the mine to Darwin before travelling home to Palmerston on Friday.

Gunner said there were about 15 people who travelled to Darwin after working at the mine while the worker was infectious who remain unaccounted for, and two close contacts of the original case who had agreed to isolate were now “uncontactable”.

“While we don’t have their information, the safest thing to do is to assume the worst: assume they are positive and assume there are exposure sites,” Gunner said.

“There is a stronger chance that any new cases will have exposure sites which makes the job of tracing and testing much bigger.

“The Northern Territory is now facing its biggest threat since the Covid crisis began.”

Calling it a “scary and uncertain” time for the Territory – which until now has avoided community outbreaks throughout the pandemic – Gunner said he would not rule out extending the lockdown.

“If it needs to be longer or later it will be,” he said.

The NT authorities believe the cases are part of the contagious Delta strain – which he dubbed a “tricky bugger” – however they are linked to an earlier case in Queensland, not the current Sydney outbreak.

In Western Australia though, the virus has found its way 3,200km from a Bondi cafe to Perth.

WA’s health minister, Roger Cook, announced that late on Saturday night a woman who had travelled to Sydney had returned a positive result, sparking new restrictions on gatherings and forcing a highly anticipated AFL match between the West Coast Eagles and the Western Bulldogs to be played behind closed doors.

The woman, a physiotherapist in her 50s, ate lunch at Lyfe cafe in Bondi before she returned to Perth on 20 June. Under WA rules she had isolated on her return to the state but re-entered the community after returning a negative test.

She visited a number of venues, saw clients and then developed symptoms a few days later and subsequently returned a positive result on a second test.

“This person did everything right,” Cook told reporters.

The new outbreaks have renewed calls for the federal government to ramp up the country’s vaccination program, and Berejiklian in particular did little to mask her frustration with the level of supply to her state on Sunday.

“The challenge is, we have literally millions of people in NSW wanting the vaccine,” she said when asked if she wanted to expand vaccine eligibility.

“The NSW government cannot control how many doses we get. I want to assure the community whenever we get doses we get them in arms.

“Whether we are in an outbreak, lockdown or otherwise, the NSW government has always said, give us more vaccines. That has always been our position … no matter how good your systems is, it is not until the vast majority of the population is vaccinated that we will be able to protect our citizens. It is the bottom line.”

But the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, has resisted calls for the AstraZeneca vaccine to be made available to people under 40 who specifically request it.

The commonwealth has steadily restricted the age groups who can access Australia’s main vaccine because of advice from the Therapeutic Goods Administration about serious but rare side affects, to the point where it is now expected to shelve jab by October.

Some under 40s who are yet to become eligible have been pushing to be given access to the vaccine on the basis that the risks associated with it remain extremely rare, but Hunt dismissed those calls on Sunday.

“One of the critical things here is we have very clear lines of medical advice and I respect there are differing views in a nation of over 25m people … but in order to manage the vaccination program we follow a risk-based profile,” he said.

“One of the things here is where someone is of a younger age and in either a vulnerable group or in a group which has a heightened risk of transmission, they have been given that early access but around the world the principal approach based on the medical advice has been to provide the available supplies on medical risk.”

Police patrol at Bondi Beach on Sunday after lockdown restrictions came into effect.
Police patrol at Bondi Beach on Sunday after lockdown restrictions came into effect. Photograph: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Also on Sunday, Queensland reported two new locally acquired cases of the virus. The two cases – a couple – are of the Alpha variant of the virus, not the Delta strain, and the state’s chief medical officer, Dr Jeannette Young, believes they are linked to an earlier outbreak in the state.

However a range of restrictions – including on bar and pub capacity – will remain in place for a further two weeks, with Young not ruling out the need for more.

“We’ll just have to see how all of this evolves over the next few days,” she said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.