Sydney’s poorest neighbourhoods on Friday braced for military enforcement of the city’s toughest and longest lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic as the infection numbers held persistently high five weeks since restrictions began.
With the city of 5 million people ordered to stay home amid an outbreak of the highly transmissable Delta variant, authorities outlined even tighter restrictions for the worst affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors.
From Monday, some 300 Australian army personnel will help police door-knock people who have tested positive to the virus to ensure they are isolating, New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller said at a televised news conference.
“The sheer volume of increase over the last week (means) the level of compliance (enforcement) has gone from hundreds into thousands,” he said.
The amped-up military and police presence would cover the breadth of Australia’s largest city but mainly eight local government districts in the city’s west – home to 2 million people – where most new cases have been reported.
As the city entered its sixth week of a planned nine-week lockdown, New South Wales state reported 170 new local cases, most in the state capital Sydney, down from a record 239 a day earlier. Of the new cases, at least 42 spent time in the community while infectious.
While new cases fell, state premier Gladys Berejiklian said the high number of infectious people in the community meant "we are expecting to see those numbers bounce around".
At the same news conference, state health minister Brad Hazzard said people were waiting too long to get tested after developing symptoms, and that "we are seeing more families coming in with a family member who is presenting not alive but dead".
While some people in migrant communities may be distrustful of government, “we are here to support you and our health system is here to support you,” he added.
Since the outbreak began with an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver last month, NSW has reported 13 deaths, taking the national total to 923 since the pandemic began.
The epicentre of the outbreak has crossed Sydney from the affluent beachside suburb of Bondi to the western suburbs, where local leaders said residents felt unfairly targeted by the heightened enforcement.
"They've got no other ideas than to bring in the military as a last resort because they're lost for answers on issues they created," said Steve Christou, mayor of the Cumberland local government area, where 60 per cent of its 240,000 residents were born overseas.
“They are a poor community, they are a vulnerable community, and they don’t deserve these lockdowns or these extended and harsh measures that they have now been targeted with,” he added in a telephone interview.
China reported on Friday 64 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for July 29th, compared with 49 cases a day earlier, the health authority said.
The National Health Commission said in a statement 21 of the new infections were local cases, compared with 24 the previous day. There were no new deaths.
A majority of the local cases were reported in Jiangsu province, the authority said.
The province's capital city of Nanjing is currently facing an outbreak of the Delta variant that surfaced earlier this month.
The official Xinhua news agency reported that the source of the outbreak was inadequately protected airport staff who were cleaning planes after international flights.
Health authorities in China have set up checkpoints and reportedly suspended flights in the eastern city of Nanjing in the country’s worst coronavirus emergency in months.
Authorities have since conducted mass testing in the city, and closed the airport on Tuesday.
Two cases of the virus were also reported in Hunan province. One case was reported in Beijing.
The new patients in Hunan were reported after symptomless carriers outside the province were found to have attended a live performance at a theatre in the Zhangjiajie city on July 22nd. Local authorities deemed all spectators in the theatre during 18.00-19.00 July 22nd as high virus risk.
More than 2,000 people attended performances on July 22 and guests were seated next to each other, a health publication run by state media the People’s Daily said in an report on Wednesday.
China also reported 25 new asymptomatic patients, compared with 14 a day earlier.
Greece has begun deploying police units to holiday island hotspots as the country's tourism season moves into high gear amid a worrying spread of coronavirus variants.
Authorities moved to beef up police presence on party isles such as Mykonos and Ios as concerns mounted over local entrepreneurs failing to comply with health measures aimed at curbing the pandemic.
Some 186 police officers have been sent to Mykonos alone, up from the 56 stationed there this time last year.
On Thursday, an additional 30 policemen, backed up by security officials and undercover agents, were dispatched to Ios, the 11-mile-long Cycladic isle popular with younger tourists drawn to its bars, discos and rock clubs.
The Greek deputy civil protection minister, Nikos Hardalias, said Mykonos and Ios were "one step" away from authorities imposing further restrictions, and that the situation on the islands of Zakynthos, Tinos, Lefkada, Santorini, Paros and Rhodes was also worrying.
Greece’s south Aegean islands were marked dark red on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid map on Thursday, meaning all but essential travel to and from the region is discouraged. The cluster of 13 islands includes Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes.
Infection rates have shot up among people aged between 20 and 30 – with most testing asymptomatic in a country that to date has registered more than 485,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 13,000 Covid-19 deaths.
In contrast to the rest of Europe, Greece's holiday industry has fared comparatively well in the 10 weeks since the popular destination opened, with hoteliers reporting a noticeable increase in reservations from both Europeans and US travellers.
Arrivals have soared by 130 per cent since last year when the tourist-dependent nation experienced a 75 per cent drop in visitors – even if they still pale next to 2019 when Greece attracted a record 33.1 million people. Tourism revenues last month rose by “more than 400 per cent compared to June last year,” said Theoharis.
“We have made up for some lost ground – about 140,000 visitors from the UK have flown in since July 19th. They are coming in in big numbers though there is still some way to go. Britain is an important market.”
But with the highly transmissible Delta variant also in the ascendant, industry officials speak of “managing the unmanageable” as new challenges emerge daily.
Earlier this month, authorities were forced to impose a week-long curfew and music ban on Mykonos after contagion rates skyrocketed on the “anything goes” island.
On Wednesday, the citizens' protection minister Michalis Chrisochidois warned it was only a matter of time before a similar lockdown was enforced on Ios.
Theoharis, the tourism minister, said islands Greece had promoted as “Covid-free”, following a campaign to vaccinate entire populations ahead of the country formally accepting tourists, were having a better season. “Smaller islands are fuller than bigger islands,” he said.
This week Greek health officials announced five million people had been vaccinated, still well short of herd immunity being achieved, according to epidemiologists.
Tourism accounts for almost 25 per cent of Greek GDP with one in five jobs reliant on the sector. – Reuters/Guardian