Australia sees COVID-19 cases climb, police warn against protest repeat

A lone woman, wearing a protective face mask, walks across an unusually quiet city centre bridge on the first day of a lockdown as the state of Victoria looks to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo

Australia’s most populous state reported a rise in new COVID-19 cases on Monday despite a weeks-long stay-at-home order, while police vowed to crack down on any repeat of a wild anti-lockdown protest at the weekend.

New South Wales, which has had more than 5 million people in Sydney city under lockdown for a month, reported 145 new cases of the virus, from 141 a day earlier, as it struggles to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Of particular concern, 51 of those newly diagnosed were active in the community before testing positive, raising the risk of transmission. The authorities have said they want that number near zero before lifting the city’s most restrictive lockdown of the pandemic at a July 30 target date.

“Some settings might change. We might need to go harder in some areas and release some settings in others,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a televised news confererence. She added that she would give an update on movement restrictions in the next few days.

At the weekend, thousands of people marched in an anti-lockdown protest which turned violent in central Sydney, an event that state chief health officer Kerry Chant called “distressing”.

As images and videos of the protest circulated on social media, including one image of a man apparently punching a police horse in the head, state police commissioner Mick Fuller said some 10,000 people had called the police hotline to report people suspected of breaking lockdown orders.

The calls to police were “an amazing outcry by the community, not just in terms of their disgust at the protest but at the way the police were treated”, said Fuller.

Police knew of plans for a repeat protest and similar behaviour “won’t be tolerated again”, he added.

Victoria state, also under lockdown, reported 11 new cases, although all were in quarantine during their infectious period. Authorities said they would decide the next day whether to lift restrictions as hoped.

Neighbouring South Australia said it was on track to exit its snap one-week lockdown on Wednesday, after reporting one new local case, also in quarantine through their infectious period.

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