Australia’s most populous state has expanded its Covid-19 lockdown to include a rural town and the coastal region of Byron Bay, as the city of Sydney recorded its highest daily case count since the beginning of the pandemic.
There were four deaths and 356 locally transmitted Covid-19 infections confirmed in New South Wales on Monday, almost all of which were in Sydney, state premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a press conference on Tuesday morning.
New South Wales is one of a number of Australian states struggling to contain the latest outbreak, which has led to lockdowns in some of the country’s largest cities. At least 10 million people across Australia are facing covid restrictions, about 40% of the country’s population.
On Monday, the New South Wales government expanded the state’s lockdown to regional areas, including Tamworth, a farming town 414 kilometers (257 miles) northwest of Sydney, and Byron Bay, a tourist spot about 770 kilometers (478 miles) north of Sydney.
Berejiklian said at a press conference on Monday that both would enter a seven-day lockdown after two infected people had contravened restrictions and traveled there.
“As a precaution, the health experts have recommended we lock down Tamworth for one week,” Berejiklian told reporters on Monday.
The highly infectious Delta variant continues to surge in New South Wales, despite lockdown measures in its biggest city extending into its seventh week.
Premier Berejiklian defended the long lockdown, saying without it case numbers “would undoubtedly have been in their thousands and thousands every day.”
The neighboring state of Victoria reported 20 local cases on Monday, up from 11 a day earlier. State capital Melbourne’s lockdown is currently scheduled to end on Thursday, and state Premier Daniel Andrews said the restrictions in areas outside the city would be eased on Monday.
Sydney’s lockdown is set to end on August 28 but the state government has indicated that restrictions will remain through September.
In Queensland, where the northern tourist town of Cairns is locked down, four local cases were reported on Monday. Several areas in the southeast of the state, including the capital Brisbane, came out of stay-at-home restrictions on Sunday.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under fire for a sluggish vaccine rollout, with 22.5% of Australians above 16 fully vaccinated, far below the results seen in the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union despite Australia’s smaller population.
Morrison acknowledged mounting frustrations but urged people to be patient.
“I know they’re sick of it, I know they’re angry and I know they want it to stop and for life to get back to where they knew it,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“But there can be no short cuts.”
Australia has reported a total of about 36,630 cases and 940 deaths, according to the Health Ministry.
Morrison has said all Australians over 16 will be offered a vaccine by the end of the year, with prospects for achieving that boosted on Monday when the country’s pharmaceutical regulator gave provisional approval for the Moderna shot.