• Reuters

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Downtown Sydney and the city’s eastern suburbs, which include Bondi Beach, will go into a one week lockdown from midnight Friday as authorities struggle to contain a spike in the highly contagious delta COVID-19 virus variant in the city.

People who live or have worked in the four local government council areas in Sydney in the last two weeks have been ordered to stay at home except for urgent reasons, New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

People are allowed to leave their homes only for essential work or education, medical reasons, grocery shopping or outdoor exercise.

“We don’t want to see this situation linger for weeks, we would like to see this situation end sooner rather than later,” Berejiklian said.

Twenty-two local cases were reported on Friday, the biggest rise in infections since the first case was detected in Bondi last Wednesday in a limousine driver who transported an overseas airline crew.

Officials have issued health alerts overnight for more than a dozen new venues scattered across Sydney, Australia’s largest city and home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, as total infections in the outbreak topped 60.

NSW has held off calls for a hard lockdown, instead imposing mandatory masks in all indoor locations in Sydney, including offices, restricted residents in seven council areas from leaving the city and limited home gatherings to five.

These restrictions, which were scheduled to end on Wednesday, are now extended until midnight on July 2.

Swift contact tracing, strict social distancing rules and a high community compliance have largely helped Australia quash prior outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 30,400 cases and 910 deaths.

NSW has been effectively isolated from the rest of the country after other states reinstated tough border rules in response to the latest outbreak, including a total ban for visitors from Sydney’s virus-hit suburbs.

Queensland stopped 186 passengers who attempted to enter the state by air and were sent back to Sydney, state Deputy Premier Steve Miles said in a news conference on Friday.

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