Australia’s most populous city Sydney became further isolated from the rest of the country on Sunday after states closed borders and imposed quarantine measures on its residents as a coronavirus cluster in the city grew to around 70.
The neighbouring states of Victoria and Queensland have banned people arriving from Sydney as of Monday.
“If you are from greater Sydney now is not the time to travel to Queensland,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told a news conference.
South Australia state imposed a 14-day quarantine for Sydney arrivals on Sunday and banned travellers from affected suburbs. The island state of Tasmania took a similar steps on Saturday.
Western Australia state imposed a hard border closure.
About a quarter of a million people in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs where the outbreak has occurred have been put into a strict lockdown until Christmas Eve.
On Sunday, New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian said public gathering across the rest of Sydney will be limited, with household gatherings capped at 10 participants and hospitality venues at 300, among other restrictions.
“We must take this action now to ensure we keep on top of this outbreak,” said New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
She also urged people in the greater Sydney area to wear masks in public, although it was not mandatory.
“If you’re going grocery shopping anywhere in NSW, please wear a mask, if you’re going to a place of worship in NSW, please wear a mask … and for goodness sake, do not get on public transport unless you’re wearing a mask.”
Until this week, Australia had gone more than two weeks without any local transmission and had lifted most restrictions ahead of Christmas. The Sydney outbreak and border restrictions have thrown Christmas holiday travel plans into chaos.
The annual Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race starting Boxing Day Dec. 26 has been cancelled for the first time in its 76 year history as crews and their families would have to quarantine on arrival in Tasmania.
Hotels and holiday rentals in NSW have been swamped with mass Christmas cancellations and restaurants have seen the number of patrons drop significantly, local media reported.
Australia has avoided the worst of the pandemic due to border closures, lockdowns, widespread testing and social distancing. It has recorded around 28,100 infections, the overwhelming majority in Victoria state, and 908 deaths.
Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said the ban of travellers from Sydney was to protect the state’s streak of 51 days of no new local coronavirus cases.
The Victorian state capital Melbourne, the second most populous city, was locked down for four months earlier in the year as it battled a second wave of infections.
NSW health authorities said that there were more than 28,200 tests conducted in the past 24 hours and urged more people to get tested. The origin of the virus in Sydney remains unknown, which genome testing suggests is a U.S. strain.