SYDNEY (Reuters) -A third Australian state announced lockdown rules on Tuesday to combat the COVID-19 Delta variant spread, with South Australia entering week-long restrictions, joining an extended lockdown in Victoria and a five-week shutdown in Sydney.
Australia’s most populous state New South Wales (NSW), of which Sydney is the capital, is battling the worst COVID-19 outbreak of this year, with total cases exceeding 1,400 since the first case was reported more than a month ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
NSW authorities reported a slight slowdown in new cases on Tuesday as infections fell to 78 from 98 a day earlier as Sydney and some surrounding areas endure a fourth week of lockdown.
At least 21 of the new cases were infectious while still in the community, a number that authorities said must be close to zero in order for lockdown restrictions to be lifted.
“We are seeing more hospitalisations, more admissions to ICU, more people on ventilators – we have to stop the spread of COVID,” NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said in Sydney on Tuesday, referring to intensive care units (ICU).
Ninety-five COVID-19 cases are now in hospitals in NSW, with 27 in intensive care, 11 of whom are on ventilators. Five deaths have been reported during the latest outbreak.
Australia has used a system of lockdowns, tough social distancing rules and swift contact tracing to suppress the infection rate to a fraction of the levels recorded in other jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom and United States.
Since the pandemic began, it has reported just over 32,000 COVID-19 cases and 915 deaths.
However the virulent Delta strain and a low COVID-19 vaccine coverage in Australia, with just over 14% of adults fully vaccinated, is testing health services.
A five-day snap lockdown in Victoria state was due to end Tuesday night, but authorities extended restrictions by seven days until July 27 as officials sought more time to quell an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant.
“There are chains of transmission that are not yet contained that we don’t know about and if we would open up we would see how quickly this runs, we see how challenging this can become in a very short space of time,” Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said in Melbourne on Tuesday.
“The speed with which this has moved through the Victorian community confirms that we did the right thing to lock down, and it also sadly confirms that we need more time.”
Nine locally acquired cases were detected in Victoria from 13 a day earlier, in line with a downward trend and taking total cases to more than 80. Of the new cases, all but one was linked to the current outbreak, officials said.
Virus-exposed locations in Victoria have risen to more than 300 since the first cases were detected a week ago linked to a team of infectious furniture movers from Sydney.
The state of South Australia said it would join Sydney and Victoria in lockdown from Tuesday evening for seven days after detecting new cases of the Delta strain. Authorities have so far identified five cases linked to the current cluster.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Richard Pullin and Michael Perry)