Australian apartment blocks placed in hard lockdown

Sydney’s five million residents are currently in their third week of a partial lockdown. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP, BLOOMBERG) - An Australian apartment block have been placed under strict lockdown with police posted outside Tuesday (July 13), as authorities stepped up efforts to curb a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak.

Police guarded both the front and rear exits of an apartment block in Sydney's Bondi neighbourhood, where nine people have tested positive for Covid-19, with movement in and out of the building restricted.

A sign taped to one apartment window read "Send Beer" while another asked, "where is the vaccine?"

Sydney is currently in its third week of a partial lockdown as authorities try to stamp out the spread of the virus in the community.

Most residents of Australia's largest city are allowed to leave home for exercise, essential shopping, work or health reasons, but are encouraged to remain at home.

Tougher restrictions are placed on people who have visited locations that are declared a virus hotspot, which may include mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Australia's latest Covid-19 outbreak began in mid-June and has since grown to 767 cases.

An entire apartment block in Melbourne was also placed under isolation for 14 days, after removal workers who visited from Sydney tested positive.

Authorities are now asking Australians living in other apartment buildings to wear a mask when in common areas.

"When you're in apartment buildings, we're not wanting you to congregate in any shared spaces," said New South Wales chief health official Kerry Chant. "We are really requiring under a public health order that you wear masks when you're transiting through common areas."

Residents in one southwest Sydney neighbourhood, where the virus is currently spreading most quickly, are now required to get tested every three days if they leave the area for work.

Under 10 per cent of Australians have been fully vaccinated, leaving the population highly vulnerable to the quick-spreading Delta variant.

Sydney's lockdown had been scheduled to end on Friday, but an extension is now looking likely, despite a drop in new infections to 89 in the past 24 hours.

Travel bubble with Singapore

Meanwhile, Australia's top diplomat to Singapore said the country has a "firm commitment" to launch a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore, which is more likely to now occur by the end of the year due to Sydney's coronavirus outbreak.

"There's a very strong commitment for officials, both governments in Australia and here in Singapore, to progress the systems - the operational capabilities, the requirements - that will be necessary to ensure safe travel," High Commissioner to Singapore Will Hodgman said in an interview with Bloomberg Television's Juliette Saly on Tuesday.

"Given the outbreak in Australia, the unpredictability of this virus, it is more likely that travel will be possible towards the end of this calendar year."

The statement comes after Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who is this week visiting Singapore as the first leg of an international trip to boost business and economic ties with nations including Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and the United States, said in an interview published on Sunday that the travel corridor had been pushed back due to an outbreak of the Delta variant that has put Australia's most-populous city into lockdown.

Sydney faces being increasingly isolated from the rest of the nation as it remains in lockdown.

Its outbreak is highlighting the problems with Australia's tardy vaccine roll-out, which has been hit by supply-chain hold-ups from contracted drug-makers. Political rivals also say that Prime Minister Scott Morrison failed to secure enough doses from a wide-enough range of suppliers.

While Australia was an early success story in the fight against Covid-19, a sluggish vaccine rollout means even as the rest of the world opens up, the country's borders are expected to stay shut to most of the outside world until well into 2022.

Just 26 per cent of the population have received their first jab, according to Bloomberg's Vaccine Tracker, compared with about 70 per cent in Singapore.

The Australia-Singapore travel corridor had been pushed back due to Sydney's coronavirus outbreak. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, KUA CHEE SIONG

Mr Hodgman, who also served as the premier of Tasmania state for six years until 2020, also said in the interview that Australia viewed the Quad security partnership as having a "complementary" relationship with Asean.

Australia's Mr Morrison has increasingly encouraged the Quad, which includes key ally the US as well as Japan and India, to act as a counter against what it sees as China's assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Australian exporters are increasingly concerned that Mr Morrison's government is making public statements that seem to be stoking tensions with Beijing, which has launched a volley of punitive trade actions that have hit commodities from coal and barley to lobsters and wine.

"It's literally our region, so it's important that Australia continues to have South-east Asia at the centre of our foreign policy, which we do," Mr Hodgman said.

"The Quad is an arrangement of like-minded countries similarly inclined to ensure trade is open and free, that international rules-based orders are adhered to, and that our broader region remains stable and secure."

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