SYDNEY (Dispatches) – Australia’s biggest city announced tighter Covid restrictions including heavier fines and tighter policing on Saturday as authorities battled to contain a Delta outbreak and said they were seeing the “most concerning day of the pandemic” so far.
After months of pursuing a “Covid zero” strategy, Australia has been struggling to bring a resurgence of coronavirus cases under control, with more than 10 million people under lockdown in its two largest cities and the capital Canberra.
Residents of Sydney, going into an eighth week under stay-at-home orders, will now face heftier fines for flouting rules or lying to contact tracers, with current restrictions proving insufficient to stop the spread.
Police would boost patrols and checkpoints while hundreds more defense force personnel will help enforce stay-at-home orders as the outbreak in the most populous state of New South Wales hit another daily record of 466 community cases.
“Today is the most concerning day of the pandemic that we’ve seen,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
Describing efforts to curb the outbreak as a war against the “diabolical” Delta strain, Berejiklian said Australia was facing a significant threat from the outbreak.
“For some time, we thought Australia was different to other parts of the world, but we’re not.”
Meanwhile, the Philippines’s already stretched healthcare system is under more strain as the country reports its second-largest daily increase in COVID-19 infections since the pandemic, providing more evidence of how the virulent Delta variant may be spreading.
Hundreds of hospitals in the country were again nearing full capacity as of Saturday, with some facilities reporting they had run out of intensive care unit beds for COVID-19 patients, leaving healthcare workers, who are forced to work longer hours, exhausted.
In the U.S., Texas and Florida are also experiencing some of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks, accounting for 40 percent of hospitalizations over the last week, according to the White House.
News agency Associated Press quoted the health officials as saying that the rapid acceleration in Covid-19 cases shows delta has the potential to unravel the state’s progress towards recovery.
Even vaccination is not helping. “Vaccination progress is continuing, but not fast enough,” state Secretary of Health Umair A Shah said.