Sydney’s Rising Covid Cases Raise Risk For Christmas Festivities

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Sydney’s 5 million residents are being encouraged to forgo end-of-year celebrations and anything else that might fan a coronavirus outbreak that’s closed state borders and threatens to scupper Christmas festivities.

A new health order Monday will limit gatherings in homes and entertainment venues across metropolitan Sydney for at least three days, while New South Wales health officials work to trace the source and contain a growing cluster involving at least 66 people.

Fifty-three community-acquired Covid-19 cases were reported over the weekend. Almost all were linked to the Northern Beaches area, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Sunday. Potential coronavirus carriers visiteddozens of sites across Sydney, raising concern that the virus may be widely distributed across Australia’s most-populous city.

“The best chance we’ve got of any sort of a Christmas gathering on Christmas Day is to really rein it in for the rest of this week,” Danielle McMullen, state president of the Australian Medical Association, said in an interview. “Sydneysiders should prepare themselves for a restricted Christmas.”

Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia imposed border restrictions and quarantine measures to prevent travelers from New South Wales spreading the pandemic virus.

‘There Will Be New Cases’

“We know that when there are exposure sites across many areas with many, potentially hundreds of exposed individuals, that there will be new cases cropping up over the next 14 days,” Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, told reporters in Melbourne Sunday. “What we see today in Sydney is not what the situation will be like a week from now.”

Victoria, which has reported no community-acquired Covid-19 cases for 51 days, will deploy 700 police at border checkpoints, Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Australia has managed to suppress SARS-CoV-2 transmission in the past, keeping the total number of reported Covid-19 cases to fewer than 29,000, including908 fatalities, since the start of the pandemic.

Sydney’s Covid Hotspot Spurs Lockdown of Northern Beaches

No Singing

Household gatherings in metropolitan Sydney are limited to 10 visitors until at least 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, the New South Wales Health department said. Indoor settings, including hospitality venues and places of worship, are limited to one person per 4 square meters (43 square feet), with a maximum of 300 people. Singing and chanting at indoor venues is also prohibited.

Stay at home orders for some 250,000 residents in the Northern Beaches local government area will also continue until midnight Wednesday. The region includes the popular seaside suburb of Manly, and Palm Beach, where the Australian television soap opera “Home and Away” has been filmed since 1988.

New South Wales authorities will meet Wednesday to determine any further measures, Berejiklian said.

“This is the last thing any of us wanted at this time of the year,” she told reporters in Sydney. “But, as we know, we’re in a pandemic. I have confidence we’ll get through this so long as we all stick together and stick to the advice that’s been provided.”

Any escalation of new infections in coming days without continued measures to prevent transmission could risk many potentially infectious people congregating on Christmas Day and even more on New Year’s eve, said Raina MacIntyre, professor of global biosecurity at Sydney’s University of New South Wales.

Christmas Day on Friday “is a huge period of movement around Sydney,” MacIntyre said in an interview. “People will be moving from one suburb to the next to go for dinner and lunch, and having large gatherings indoors maybe.”

‘Thousands of Cases’

It may not be known for another week or so whether there are clusters growing in other parts of Sydney, MacIntyre said.

“If we don’t prevent that chain of events, we could be looking at thousands of cases in January,” she said, adding that face masks should be made mandatory in confined indoors spaces, such as shopping malls.

A seven-day, Sydney-wide “stay at home” order may also be necessary to arrest spread, according toMarylouise McLaws, professor of epidemiology, hospital infection and infectious diseases control at the University of New South Wales.

McLaws, who serves on a World Health Organization ad-hoc Covid infection prevention and control group, also recommends holiday festivities be curtailed, if not canceled altogether.

“I’ve told my family not to come to Sydney and I haven’t seen them for a year,” she said.

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