Sydney to know soon if 'last Covid-19 lockdown' will be extended

A pedestrian crosses an unusually quiet street in the city centre during a lockdown in Sydney on July 5, 2021.
A pedestrian crosses an unusually quiet street in the city centre during a lockdown in Sydney on July 5, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - The authorities in Sydney are seeking to take measures to ensure the Australian city's current two-week lockdown is its last during the pandemic, in a signal that stay-at-home orders may be extended beyond Friday (July 9).

The city of about six million people recorded 18 new cases in the community on Tuesday from 35 the day before, increasing the total infections detected since mid-June to 330.

They include five residents and three staff members of an aged-care facility, raising concern that a section of the community is particularly vulnerable to the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.

"The lockdown is having its desired effect to date, no doubt about that," New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, adding she expected to make an announcement on Wednesday about whether it would need to be extended beyond Friday.

Her government wanted "this to be the last lockdown until we get the majority of our citizens vaccinated", she said.

That will likely take months, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison being accused by some health experts and political rivals of failing to secure enough doses from a wide-enough range of sources. The Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker shows just 26 per cent of Australians have received their first jab.

That could have long-term implications - maybe even for his re-election bid next year.

Mr Morrison's personal approval rating has slipped from 57 per cent to 51 per cent, a Guardian poll published on Tuesday showed. That came after a Newspoll published last week showed his ruling conservative coalition had slipped 2 percentage points to trail Labour, 49 per cent to 51 per cent.

While Sydney and its surrounding areas are the last places in Australia to remain in lockdown, which last week affected half the nation's population, the outbreaks have shown the limits of Australia's so-called "Covid-zero" strategy.

Victoria, which has been plunged into lockdown more times than any other state during the pandemic, has recorded zero community cases for almost a week.

That strategy, which has relied on closed international borders and rigorous testing to eliminate community transmission of the virus, has been stretched by the emergence of the Delta variant.

In contrast to Britain and the United Stats, which have had relatively strong vaccination rates, a slow roll-out in Australia means the economy - and particularly domestic tourism - remains vulnerable.

In a potential blow to that sector, the Australian Formula 1 Grand Prix - scheduled to take place in Melbourne in late November - may be cancelled due to the virus outbreak, News Corp reported on Tuesday.