Sydney tightens lockdown as Australia’s Covid-19 cases rise

Chairs are stacked on tables inside a restaurant closed for dine-in. Reuters/Loren Elliott

Sydney on Saturday ordered a shutdown of building sites, banned more retailers from trading, and threatened fines for employers who make staff come into the office as new Covid-19 cases kept rising three weeks into a citywide lockdown.

The NSW state government also banned hundreds of thousands of people in the city’s western suburbs from leaving their immediate neighbourhoods for work, as they recorded 111 new cases in the prior 24 hours, up from 97 the day before.

In a statement, the government said that from 11.59pm tonight, all but exempted retail premises in Greater Sydney, including the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong, and Shellharbour must close, except to provide click-and-collect services, takeaways, and home delivery. However, the following retailers are exempted:

  • Supermarkets and grocery stores, including butchers, bakeries, produce stores, fish mongers and liquor outlets.
  • Stores that predominantly sell health, medical, maternity and infant supplies.
  • Pharmacies and chemists.
  • Petrol stations.
  • Car hire.
  • Banks.
  • Hardware, nurseries and building supplies.
  • Agricultural and rural supplies.
  • Pet shops.
  • Post offices.
  • Newsagents.
  • Office supplies.

People who leave home must have a mask with them at all times and these must be worn when working outdoors, in outdoor markets, outdoor shopping strips and in outdoor queues while waiting for products such as coffee or food.

Carpooling is banned unless among members of the same family.

ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the clarity on which businesses can operate was welcome given earlier confusion but warned the decision will carry “a heavy economic cost”.

“This announcement has come as no surprise, with daily case numbers hovering around triple figures, so tighter restrictions were always on the cards,” Zahra said.

“The silver lining in all this is that we finally have a clear definition from the NSW Government on what is considered essential retail. The previous three weeks have been incredibly confusing for businesses and consumers with no direction on retailers having to close.”

Zahra urged consumers to use digital shopping options. “So if there are things you would normally buy in stores that will have to close from tonight, consider click and collect, shop online and check out the takeaway and delivery options that are available.

“Every dollar you spend keeps someone in a job – it doesn’t matter if that purchase is made in a store or over the internet.”

Death toll increases

NSW recorded an additional death from the virus today, taking the total to three since the start of the year and the national total to 913 since the pandemic began.

“I can’t remember a time when our state has been challenged to such an extent,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a televised news conference.

The city has been under lockdown since June 26, with a planned end date of July 30, after an airport transit driver brought the virus into the community and sparked an outbreak of the highly infectious variant, according to the authorities.

More than 1000 people in the city and surrounding districts have since tested positive. Of most concern to health leaders is the number of infectious people who are active in the community, which remained at 29 on Saturday, in line with previous days.

“We are chasing our tail in terms of the cases,” state chief health officer Kerry Chant said at the news conference. NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said the “tempo of the police response will increase” across Greater Sydney and regional areas. Stores that can remain open in Sydney include supermarkets, pharmacies, and hardware outlets.

All building work must stop until the July 30 deadline including cleaning, property maintenance, and home renovation, authorities said.

People who lived in three of Sydney’s local government districts – with a total population of 612,000 – were banned from leaving their district for work unless they were emergency workers. The city already has a work-from-home directive for businesses, but employers who told staff to attend the office would be fined $10,000, they said.

Neighbouring Victoria state also reported a jump in daily Covid-19 cases to 19, from six the previous day, raising fears it may extend a short lockdown that was scheduled to end on Tuesday. The state of 7 million people on Thursday joined the 5 million residents of Sydney city – accounting for nearly half Australia’s population – by going into lockdown after a flare-up of the coronavirus.

Additional reporting by Byron Kaye of Reuters.

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