By Lidia Kelly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australia reported on Sunday one of the highest numbers for locally acquired coronavirus cases this year, triggering lockdowns in the cities of Sydney and Darwin and forcing tighter restrictions in four states. Sydney began a two-week lockdown on Sunday as the Bondi neighbourhood cluster of the highly infectious coronavirus Delta variant rose to 110 in Australia's largest city, while an outbreak in the northern city of Darwin prompted a hard two-day stay-at-home order.
"Given how contagious this strain of the virus is we do anticipate that in the next few days case numbers are likely to increase beyond what we have seen today," News South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a news briefing in Sydney. There were 38 cases of different COVID-19 variants reported by late Sunday, 30 of them in Sydney, four in Northern Territory, three in Queensland and one in Western Australia. It was the first time in months that so many different regions in Australia had reported new infections on the same day, and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt also warned Australians there would be more to come.
"I'm confident we will get through it. There will be cases that follow. We need to be honest and aware of that.”
Queensland, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and South Australia have implemented tighter social distancing rules, some closing borders to arrivals from affected regions, others moving to obligatory mask wearing indoors. Australia has been more successful in managing the pandemic than many other advanced economies through swift border closures, social distancing rules and high compliance, reporting just over 30,450 cases and 910 COVID-19 deaths. But the country has struggled with its vaccination rollout and has confronted an increasing number of small outbreaks in recent months. Government figures suggest that there have been only about 1.4 million double doses of vaccinations administered so far in a country of 25 million people.
The lockdown in Sydney meant people can only leave home for essential shopping, work, education, exercise and medical care. ""I think because we have been through a lockdown before so I guess we are mentally a bit more prepared this time," Preet Singh, a resident, said. Australia's series-opening rugby test against France next month was moved to Brisbane as Sydney entered lockdown. Northern Territory reported four locally acquired infections, unrelated to Sydney, which started with a worker at a gold mine owned by Newmont Corp, now in lockdown.
"I would rather regret us going too hard, too early than go too easy and risk it all," Chief Minister Michael Gunner said at a news briefing after imposing an immediate 48-hour hard lockdown on Darwin and some surrounding areas.
(Additional reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard & Simon Cameron-Moore)