SYDNEY • With Sydney's beachside suburbs in lockdown due to a growing Covid-19 outbreak, residents of Australia's largest city flocked in record numbers to get tested for coronavirus.
Even at Bondi Beach, 45km away from the coronavirus flare-up, drivers queued bumper to bumper in long lines around the famous beachfront waiting to get into a drive-through testing centre.
New South Wales state officials said 15 people had tested positive for Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases in its northern beaches outbreak to 83. New cases were down from 36 the previous day.
Desperate to contain the spread, the state has opened dozens of new testing sites, some of which are running 24 hours a day. More than 38,000 tests had been conducted in the past 24 hours, a new record.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was too early to say a larger outbreak had been averted as north-eastern suburbs entered the third day of a five-day lockdown, adding that the situation is volatile.
Australia also confirmed it had detected cases of the fast-spreading new coronavirus strain that has forced Britain to reverse plans to ease curbs over Christmas.
The government would provide an update by tomorrow on "what Christmas and the next few days look like" in terms of further containment measures beyond those already imposed on the north-eastern suburbs, Ms Berejiklian said.
However, other states and territories have moved quickly to close borders to all of Sydney's five million residents, throwing Christmas travel plans into disarray.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "2020 is not done with us yet. The events of the past few days... are incredibly frustrating and disappointing for people all around the country who had plans in place to get together and move in between states."
New South Wales imposed a lockdown last Friday in Sydney's northern beaches area, home to more than 250,000 people, after the cluster of cases emerged, centred on two dining and entertainment venues. More than 80 locations, including cafes, gyms and supermarkets across Sydney, were identified as having been visited by people with confirmed infection.
Australia has recorded just less than 28,200 cases and 908 deaths since the pandemic began.