Hundreds of thousands of Sydney residents have been told to stay home after a new outbreak of Covid-19 ended a two-week run of no local cases.
Officials are racing to trace the source of the infection in the New South Wales (NSW) capital, which has so far been found in 17 cases across the city’s northern beaches region.
Until Wednesday, the whole country had recorded just one locally acquired case in the past fortnight, reports the BBC.
Tests have shown that the outbreak is an international strain of Covid-19, state officials said, but they still do not know how it got into the community.
Authorities told reporters that one couple had failed to isolate at home while awaiting Covid test results and had spread the virus. However, it’s unclear how the couple – who hadn’t travelled outside Australia – became infected.
The NSW state government warned locals on Friday to “brace” for considerably more cases.
About 250,000 people live in the Northern Beaches region and they have been told to stay at home until Monday and to get tested if they have symptoms.
The new cluster is sparking national concern and thrown many Australians’ plans for a relatively normal Christmas into doubt as residents now face curbs on travel to other states.
In recent months, authorities have lifted most restrictions on daily life and reopened internal borders as Australia beat its second wave, centred around Melbourne.
Earlier this week, NSW ended a work-from-home public health order due to its low case numbers.
However, in response to this new Sydney outbreak, several states have begun reinstating bans or quarantine restrictions on travellers from the popular beach region from Friday.
Queensland, Victoria, Northern Territory and Tasmania have announced new travel rules and Western Australia has brought in a two-week quarantine order for all those arriving from NSW.
Residents of other parts of Australia’s largest city have been told to avoid the northern beaches area and to use a mask when on public transport and in public spaces like supermarkets.
The Sydney Morning Herald is reporting that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is expected to speak to the media on Friday morning.