Sydney beach suburbs in lockdown as cases rise

SYDNEY (AP) – 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 41.

From yesterday afternoon until midnight on Wednesday, residents will only be permitted to leave their homes for five basic reasons: medical care, exercise, grocery shop, work or for compassionate care reasons.

An additional 23 cases were recorded in the 24 hours, including 10 already announced, taking the new cases to 41. All but two of those are from the so-called Avalon cluster, named after a community of about 10,000 people on the northern beaches about 40 kilometres from downtown Sydney.

New South Wales State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the restrictions are essential if Sydney has any hope of a semi-normal holiday.

“We are hoping that will give us sufficient time to get on top of the virus, so that we can then ease up for New Year,” she said.

People attend a drive through COVID-19 testing station at a beach in Sydney, Australia. PHOTO: AP

The new cases came as health officials asked hundreds of gym goers on Sydney’s northern beaches to get tested and isolate immediately. The gym adds to a lengthy list of venues, including a lawn bowling club, visited by confirmed cases published by authorities on Friday.

Other states acted to prevent the cases jumping borders, with more barriers for New South Wales residents put in place by Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. Most of those involved 14-day quarantine periods for people from the northern beaches who travel to those states.

Meanwhile, long lines snaked around coronavirus testing sites in the South Korean capital of Seoul, as the country reported another 1,053 cases, the fourth straight day of over 1,000.

The viral resurgence raised questions about the government’s handling of the outbreak.

Authorities are still deciding whether to increase social distancing to maximum levels, fearing it may further strain the economy. The numbers released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) yesterday brought the national caseload to 48,570, with nearly 7,000 cases added over the past week alone. Fourteen COVID-19 patients died in the past 24 hours to bring the death toll to 659.

There are concerns that fatalities will continue to rise because of a shortage of intensive care beds in the hardest-hit Seoul metropolitan area. The KDCA said at least 275 among 13,577 active patients are in serious or critical condition, the most since the emergence of the pandemic. Officials said at least six have died at their homes or long-term care facilities because hospitals ran out of beds.