Australia imposes border curbs as Sydney virus cluster grows

Australian states and territories have begun imposing border restrictions after 28 Covid-19 cases were detected from a cluster on Sydney’s northern beaches, with fears the number of infections will rise.

People line up for a Covid-19 coronavirus testing at Mona Vale Hospital in Sydney on December 18, 2020. (Photo by Steven Saphore / AFP)

A woman waits for a Covid test in Sydney where the source of the latest cluster is unclear.
Photo: AFP

“Everyone in greater Sydney needs to be on high alert,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a news conference today in announcing 10 new cases.

Health authorities fear the cluster may have spread to other areas of Sydney, as they have yet to determine the source of the infections.

NSW has urged about a quarter of a million residents in the affected suburbs to stay home for three days.

“My anxiety is we have not found the direct transmission route and we cannot be sure we have blocked the transmission line,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said.

Health authorities have issued a “strong advisory” for people on the northern beaches to wear a mask at indoor public places, such as shopping centres and public transport.

The NSW Health advisory is effective immediately and will be in place for 72 hours.

Authorities believe the initial transmission sites were two clubs at Avalon Beach, but have named more than 30 subsequent potential transmission sites, from banks and post offices to supermarkets and pharmacies, and advised people who have visited the sites to be tested.

Hospitals in the affected suburbs and pop-up testing sites have been inundated with many people waiting hours to be tested.

People line up for a Covid-19 coronavirus testing at Mona Vale Hospital in Sydney on December 18, 2020. (Photo by Steven Saphore / AFP)

People line up for a Covid-19 test at Mona Vale Hospital in Sydney.
Photo: AFP

Major public facilities in the northern beaches area, such as swimming pools and playgrounds, have been closed and visitors have been banned from aged care facilities.

All beaches along the 29km stretch of the coast have been closed until Monday.

Restaurants in the area, which were gearing up for a big Christmas trade, said they were having mass cancellations.

Christmas travel disrupted

The new border restrictions threw Christmas travel plans for thousands of people into chaos today.

Many people flocked to Sydney airport to try and fly out of the state, fearing hard border closures. Some travellers who left NSW were placed in immediate hotel quarantine for 14 days when they landed in another state.

Queensland state and the Northern Territory demand people who have been on the northern beaches to quarantine for 14 days. Western Australia state imposed this on anyone from NSW.

Australia’s second most populous state said people from NSW would now require a permit to enter Victoria.

Tasmania has reintroduced mandatory quarantine for people returning from areas deemed high-risk.

At a media conference, Premier Peter Gutwein said the situation in NSW was “causing some concern”.

Tasmania will keep its border open to travellers from NSW for now, with the exception of the Sydney Northern Beaches council area and several other high risk “hot spots” in Kirribilli, Peakhurst and Penrith.

“If you’re a Tasmanian returning home from any of these high-risk areas you will be required to quarantine,” Gutwein said.

Uncertainty surrounds Sydney to Hobart yacht race

Asked whether the Sydney to Hobart yacht race would go ahead in light of the developments, he said: “obviously it’s up to the race organisers to determine if the race can take place depending on where the sailors come from in New South Wales”.

“You come on a yacht or plane or boat, you come into Tasmania under the rules that apply at that time,” Gutwein said.

With the race due to start on Boxing Day, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia has been liaising with Tasmanian Public Health about restrictions on travel from the designated high-risk areas.

Wild Oats XI will be chasing a record eighth line honours victory in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

The Sydney to Hobart yacht race which begins on Boxing Day each year is one of the summer highlights for Australian sports fans. (file pic)
Photo: Photosport

The cluster and subsequent travel chaos dents Australia’s run of success in containing Covid-19.

Until this week, Australia had gone more than two weeks without any local transmission, allowing most states and territories to remove nearly all social distancing curbs.

Such was the optimism that Australia yesterday projected its economy would recover from its first recession in three decades faster than previously anticipated after containing the spread of Covid-19.

Australia’s hopes for an unchecked economic recovery, led by domestic tourism operators such as Virgin Australia and Qantas Airways, now seem unlikely.

“We have dealt with this before, we’ll deal with it again, it’s important that people remain calm about these issues,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “There is no magic formula that makes the pandemic just go away.”

Australia has reported just over 28,000 coronavirus cases and 908 deaths since the pandemic began and estimates most active cases in the country are returned overseas travellers in hotel quarantine.

NSW also announced that it had fined 13 crew from a LATAM Chile flight to Sydney $A1000 ($NZ1006) each for allegedly failing to follow orders and self-isolate.

As a result of the breach, the state will now require international flight crews to undertake mandatory quarantine in a handful of government-designated hotels.

– Reuters / ABC

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