Covid-19 cases surge in Sydney, police cordon off downtown to prevent anti-lockdown rally

New South Wales police patrolling the city in anticipation of an anti-lockdown rally in Sydney on July 31, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Sydney's coronavirus cases continued to surge on Saturday (July 31) as police cordoned off the city's central district, preventing a planned anti-lockdown protest from taking place.

There were 210 locally acquired cases of Covid-19 reported in Sydney and vicinities that are under a weeks-long strict lockdown while battling an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant. Saturday's numbers bring the outbreak to 3,190 cases.

The lockdown, to last at least until the end of August, spurred violent demonstrations last weekend, with protesters vowing to return to the streets on Saturday.

About 1,000 police officers have been deployed around Sydney to prevent the unauthorised demonstration against the lockdown and the police have been issuing prohibition notices to taxi and ride-share services, banning them from taking passengers to demonstrations, the New South Wales (NSW) police said.

Australian media reported that the rally's organisers urged their followers on Saturday to avoid gathering and regroup on a later date.

Protests last weekend resulted in a series of arrests and clashes with the police.

A late-July poll by the NSW-based market research firm Utting Research showed, however, that only 7 per cent of the people support the demonstrations. Compliance with public health rules has been one of the key cited reasons behind Australia's success in managing the pandemic.

In Sydney, there are 198 people in the hospital, 53 of them in intensive care and 27 requiring ventilation, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said. There was also one death reported, bringing the total number of deaths in the outbreak to 14.

Parts of the neighbouring state Queensland will enter into a three-day snap lockdown on Saturday after the state recorded six new coronavirus cases of the Delta strain, putting a number of football, rugby and other sporting events into limbo.

"We have seen from the experience in other states that the only way to beat the Delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong," the state's Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.

"That is now the nationally agreed approach."

Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, mostly of the Delta variant, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of just more than 34,000 cases and 924 deaths.

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