Sydney's two-month long lockdown will be extended until at least the end of September and masks will need to be worn outside as the Covid-19 delta variant outbreak in Australia's most populous city worsens.
New South Wales recorded 642 new cases on Friday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters. From Monday, outdoor mask-wearing will be mandatory -- except when exercising -- in all regions throughout the state, she said. A curfew will be placed on areas of western Sydney hardest hit by the outbreak.
Another four people had died from the virus, the state government said.
"'We're asking everybody to go through a bit of pain in order to protect lives until we get those vaccination rates up," Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney on Friday. "There is no simple answer to delta -- short, sharp lockdowns don't always work."
Berejiklian's announcement comes as the outbreak that started in Sydney continues to spread into other areas of the nation, which on Thursday recorded the highest daily tally since the pandemic began. More than half of Australia's 26 million people are in lockdown, including in Melbourne. Victoria state detected 55 cases of local transmission on Friday.
In New Zealand, authorities have linked Sydney's outbreak to at least 20 local cases. While the country's three-day lockdown was due to be lifted on Friday in most areas except in Auckland and the nearby Coromandel region, that plan looks in jeopardy amid media reports that the capital Wellington has now detected cases. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to hold a press conference at 3 p.m. local time.
The outbreaks are placing unprecedented pressure on the so-called Covid Zero strategy pursued by both Australia and New Zealand since the start of the pandemic. By closing borders and eliminating cases of community transmission leaking into their countries through strict lockdown measures, the nations have avoided the waves of deaths seen in most other countries.
'Be Straight With the Public'
Now, the highly-infectious nature of the delta variant of the coronavirus is starting to make some authorities' hopes of maintaining their Covid Zero status in the long term look unfeasible. Focus is instead turning on boosting tardy inoculation rates: Bloomberg's Vaccine Tracker shows Australia has provided both shots for just 22% of its population and New Zealand 19%, trailing most other developed nations.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been under increased pressure to ramp up the vaccination rollout, which has been hampered by supply delays. The message from his ruling coalition, along with Berejiklian's state government, has now turned to warning Australians that they will have to live with the delta variant indefinitely.
"People have to be straight with the public and tell them there are going to be more cases," Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a television interview on Friday. "There are going to be deaths. But we can't live in lockdown forever. That's our message."
Other state and territory leaders are warning that New South Wales shouldn't ease any restrictions while case numbers remain high, regardless of vaccination rates. That's expected to be a focus of a National Cabinet meeting hosted by Morrison later Friday.
Western Australia Premier Premier Mark McGowan -- perhaps the nation's strictest adherent to the zero-tolerance approach -- has said he's prepared to keep his state isolated from New South Wales regardless of vaccination rates in a bid to keep delta out.
--With assistance from Tim Smith.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)