Australian officials imposed strict new stay-at-home orders Saturday across New South Wales, including Sydney, ordering shops and households alike to close their doors due to a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
The government of the state of New South Wales (NSW), announced the measures after it reported 466 new locally-transmitted cases of COVID-19, breaking the previous record of 390 set just the day before.
“We have to accept that this is the worst situation New South Wales has been in since day one,” Gladys Berejiklian, the state’s premier, told reporters at a news conference, The Australian reported.
This is literally a war and we know it has been a war for some time – but never to this extent,” added Ms. Berejiklian, 50, the leader of the NSW Liberal Party, according to the regional news report.
To slow the spread of COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Ms. Berejiklian said that all of NSW would go into a seven-day lockdown starting at 5 p.m. local time on Saturday.
NSW ordered all pubs, restaurants and cafes to close to the public for seven days, except for takeaway customers, and told all non-essential retail businesses in the state to shutter for the week as well.
Australians have also been asked to remain at their residence unless they have a “reasonable excuse,” such as shopping locally at an essential business authorized to operate or seeking medical attention.
“Everyone must stay at home unless they have a reasonable excuse to leave. They also cannot have visitors in their home from outside their household, including family and friends,” the government said.
“This means the whole state is in strict lockdown,” Ms. Berejiklian stressed on social media. There are some exceptions, including for exercise and for individuals who cannot work or learn from home.
The NSW Police Force announced it will launch “Operation STAY AT HOME” on Monday. It will involve assigning 1,400 traffic officers to “COVID-19 compliance” duties to ensure the lockdown is enforced.
Under new penalties being imposed as part of the operation, Australians risk being fined $5,000, or roughly $3,700 U.S. dollars, for lying on a permit, lying to a contract tracer or breaching quarantine. Breaching quarantine previously carried a fine of $1,000.
“It only takes one person to do the wrong thing to facilitate considerable spread of the virus,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon said in a statement.
“We will be issuing $5,000 fines to people and closing any businesses which continue to breach the health orders, and will not apologize for these increased enforcement efforts going forward,” he said.
In addition to the 1,400 traffic officers, NSW Police announced that an additional 500 Australian Defense Force troops will join 300 previously deployed members of the military to help compliance efforts.
The novel coronavirus is highly infectious, and the even more contagious delta strain that recently caused an increase of reported infectious, hospitalizations and deaths across the U.S. and elsewhere.
Australia is relatively isolated from the rest of the world, and quickly identifying and addressing COVID-19 outbreaks within its borders is crucial to keeping the country from being ravaged by the virus.
The Australian Government Department of Health has logged 38,657 cases of COVID-19, including 953 deaths, since the outbreak started in China in late 2019. Australia has a population of around 25 million, and Sydney is the country’s most populous city;
Comparatively, the U.S., a nation of about 328 million people, has recorded more than 36 million positive COVID-19 cases since the outbreak started. More than 600,000 have died from the disease nationwide.