An outbreak in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs has grown to more than 80 coronavirus cases within the last 24 hours, prompting authorities to effectively close any travel to and from Australia’s largest city.
The border closure outside New South Wales (NSW) has seen airlines cancel several flights leaving Sydney’s airport on Monday and strict restrictions are in place to try and lessen the outbreak.
All Australian states have imposed restrictions on travelers from Sydney and parts of New South Wales because of the outbreak.
"2020 is not done with us yet," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said from Canberra on Monday, according to the BBC. "The events of the past few days… are incredibly frustrating and disappointing for people all around the country who had plans in place to get together and move in between states."
More than 250,000 residents living in the northern beaches will remain on lockdown until at least Wednesday. They will only be permitted to leave their homes for five basic reasons: medical care, exercise, grocery shop, work or for compassionate care.
A woman receives a COVID-19 test at a drive through testing station at a beach in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Sydney’s northern beaches will enter a lockdown similar to the one imposed during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March as a cluster of cases in the area increased to more than 40. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
State Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said contact tracers are yet to locate patient zero, but an extensive investigation is underway. It is believed the original infection is a U.S.-strain suspected to have leaked from Sydney’s hotel quarantine.
Meanwhile, in Sydney, indoor gatherings have been limited to 10 guests and all residents have been told to minimize social activities and to wear a mask in public spaces.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Sunday there hasn’t been evidence of massive seeding outside the northern beaches community. However, a new list of cases shows the virus has spread to greater Sydney and other parts of the state.
Health officials in NSW state welcomed a brief dip in new cases reported on Monday – 15 new infections – half the previous day’s numbers – out of a record 38,000 tests conducted in 24 hours were recorded. The outbreak has seen 83 cases so far.
"In a pandemic, there is a level of volatility, so we’ll closely monitor what happens," Berejiklian warned.
Surfers ride a wave past a sign at a beach in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Sydney’s northern beaches will enter a lockdown similar to the one imposed during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March as a cluster of cases in the area increased to more than 40. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Residents have rushed in record numbers to get tested, hoping to hold back more restrictions over Christmas.
"People are being better safe than sorry," said Bondi resident Jess Bloom, walking near the queue of cars, told Reuters.
American tourist Eric Edstrom, visiting Bondi after finishing 14 days’ quarantine at a hotel, told Reuters that Australians’ attitude to COVID-19 was "completely different" from home.
"The tolerance is a lot lower here, which I think is a really good thing," Edstrom said.
"If we compare and contrast the two responses with the two countries, I think many people in the United States would much rather have an Australian-style experience."
Staff prepare to test people at a drive through COVID-19 testing station at a beach in Sydney, Australia, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. Sydney’s northern beaches will enter a lockdown similar to the one imposed during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March as a cluster of cases in the area increased to more than 40. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Elsewhere, Australian health officials confirmed Monday that it had detected two cases of the new fast-spreading coronavirus strain identified in the United Kingdom. The travelers, who arrived to NSW, are in hotel quarantine.
Officials said the recent spike seen in Sydney is not linked to this.
Australia has fared much better than most other countries, recording just under 28,200 cases and 908 deaths since the pandemic began.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.