Sydney lockdown fines raised as Australia faces ‘worst’ Covid-19 situation

People walk at Bondi Beach in Sydney on Aug 11, 2021.
People walk at Bondi Beach in Sydney on Aug 11, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australian police hiked fines for people breaking lockdown rules in Sydney and the rest of its home state on Saturday (Aug 14) and strict stay-at-home orders were extended statewide amid a record jump in daily new Covid-19 infections.

State police will fine up to A$5,000 (S$4,988) anyone breaching stay-at-home orders or for lying to contact-tracing officials, said state Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Previously breaching quarantine orders had carried a A$1,000 fine.

“We have to accept that this is the worst situation New South Wales has been in since day one. And it’s also regrettably, because of that, the worst situation Australia’s been in,” Ms Berejiklian said.

Locally transmitted infections surged by a record 466 over the previous 24 hours, eclipsing the previous daily high of 390 set on Friday. Four deaths were recorded on Saturday, taking the state’s total in the latest outbreak to 42.

As the situation escalates, it is becoming increasingly unlikely Sydney will end its nine-week lockdown on Aug 28 as originally planned.

Authorities had been talking about easing some restrictions if enough people are vaccinated and case numbers fall.

“I wish things were getting better, but this is the nature of the Delta variant,” Ms Berejiklian told a news conference. “We will get through this, but September and October are going to be very difficult.”

Hundreds more defence personnel will be deployed next week to Sydney to help enforce the city’s lockdown as the outbreak spreads beyond Australia’s largest city. Several towns in the state are also in lockdown due to people breaching the Sydney lockdown and spreading the virus.

A new A$3,000 fine will also apply to people entering regional areas of the state without an official permit. The permit will only be granted for certain reasons including authorised work, property inspections or urgent work repairs on a second home.

Weddings and funerals will get a day “grace period” and will be allowed on Sunday, but schools across the state will close, officials said.

The head of the Australian Retailers Association, Paul Zahra, said the state-wide lockdown would come as a shock to many regional towns and could cost the economy A$1.5 billion per week.

“The fines are some of the biggest fines that I’ve ever seen and we will be issuing them as of today,” said New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller. “Those people that have been getting around the orders, taking family vacations to other premises – that is over.”

Mr Fuller said he had asked for the increased powers after seeing high levels of movement in the community and having “difficulties getting compliance from some members of the community.”

“This is literally a war, and we’ve known we’ve been in a war for some time, but never to this extent,” Ms Berejiklian added.

In neighbouring Victoria, where state capital Melbourne is in its second week of an extended lockdown, authorities reported 21 locally acquired cases, up from 15 a day earlier.

Despite the recent outbreaks, Australia still has far lower Covid-19 numbers than many other countries in the developed world, with just over 38,600 cases and 952 deaths.