Australians may face longer lockdown after “reckless” mass protests

A reflection of two gas flaring furnaces and a woman walking on sand barriers is seen in the pool of oil-smeared water at a flow station in Ughelli, Delta State, Nigeria September 17, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

MELBOURNE, July 25 (Reuters) – Australia’s New South Wales logged its second-highest daily increase of the year in locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Sunday amid fears of a wave of new infections after thousands of people joined an anti-lockdown protest.

“In relation to yesterday’s protests, can I say how absolutely disgusted I was. It broke my heart,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of the country’s most populous state, told reporters.

“I hope it won’t be a setback, but it could be,” she said.

There were 141 COVID-19 cases reported, down from 163 a day earlier. The outbreak, which began in June, is being driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, and has now infected 2,081 people in New South Wales. There are 43 people in intensive care, up from 37 a day earlier.

Under fire for a slow vaccine rollout, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more vaccine supply was not going to ensure New South Wales gets out of lockdown, but what was needed was an effective, properly enforced lockdown.

“Let me be clear – there’s not an alternative to the lockdown in New South Wales to get this under control. There is no other magic bullet that’s going to do that,” Morrison told reporters at a televised media conference.

He called the anti-lockdown protests in Sydney reckless and self-defeating.

While Berejiklian and other state leaders have blamed Canberra for the slow vaccine rollout, critics have said NSW did not enforce its stay-at-home orders, which has led to Delta variant leaks to other states.

At least 38 of the new cases in NSW had spent time in the community while infectious, state health authorities said. Numbers of such cases have stayed stubbornly high even after four weeks of lockdown in Sydney, now expected to be extended beyond July 30.

The state reported two deaths overnight, including a woman in her 30s with no pre-existing conditions.

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