Australia’s Queensland state extended a COVID-19 lockdown in Brisbane on Monday, while soldiers began patrolling Sydney to enforce stay-at-home rules as the country struggles to contain the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Queensland said it had detected 13 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, the highest one-day increase in a year. Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, was supposed to be closed down on Tuesday but will now remain closed until late Sunday.
“It’s starting to become clear that the initial lockdown will be insufficient for the outbreak,” Queensland state Deputy Premier Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane.
Queensland has yet to establish how a school child acquired the virus, but has forced students at several schools and their families, including that of Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton, to stay home.
Dutton said on Monday he would miss two weeks of parliament after he was told he must quarantine at home for 14 days as his two sons attend a school linked to the outbreak.
The rising new case numbers in two of the country’s biggest cities come as disquiet grows on how the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison is handling the pandemic.
Although Australia’s vaccination drive has lagged many other developed economies, it has so far fared much better in keeping its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just under 34,400 cases. The death toll rose to 925 after a man in his 90s died in Sydney.
Australia is going through a cycle of stop-start lockdowns in several cities after the emergence of the fast-moving Delta strain, and such restrictions are likely to persist until the country reaches a much higher level of vaccination coverage.
Prime Minister Morrison has promised lockdowns would be “less likely” once the country inoculates 70% of its population above 16 years of age – up from 19% now. Morrison expects to hit the 70% mark by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the lockdown of Brisbane and several surrounding areas comes as Sydney, the country’s largest city, enters its sixth week of stay-at-home orders.
The state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, said on Monday that it had detected 207 COVID-19 infections in the previous 24 hours, as daily new cases remained near a 16-month high set late last week.
Since the outbreak began in June, when a limousine driver contracted the virus while transporting an overseas airline crew, the state has recorded over 3,500 infections and has requested military personnel to assist in enforcing the restrictions.
On Monday, 300 army personnel who will be unarmed and under police command began door-to-door visits to ensure that people who have tested positive are isolated at home. They also accompanied police officers patrolling the Sydney neighbourhoods where the majority of COVID-19 cases have been reported.
Footage posted online showed police questioning the few people they encountered on the largely deserted streets of Sydney’s south west.
Brigadier Mick Garraway, who is in charge of the military deployment, attempted to minimise the army’s presence on Sydney’s streets.
“I want to say right up front that we are not a law enforcement agency and that is not what we will be doing,” Garraway told reporters in Sydney.
The military would help in delivering food and setting up vaccination stations, he said.
($1 = 1.3624 Australian dollars)