Sydney’s northern beaches will enter lockdown from Saturday evening as the coronavirus outbreak in the area grows to 40 cases.
From 5 p.m. on Saturday until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, the local government area will revert to strict lockdown orders last used back in March at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.
People will only be permitted to leave their homes for five basic reasons: to seek medical care, exercise, grocery shop, work or for compassionate care reasons.
An additional 23 cases were recorded in the 24 hours to 8 p.m. on Friday, including 10 already announced.
That takes the outbreak to 40 cases.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the renewed lockdown is essential if Sydney has any hope of a semi-normal Christmas.
“We’re hoping that will give us sufficient time to get on top of the virus so that we can then ease up for Christmas and the New Year,” she said.
More cases have been diagnosed after the 8 p.m. cutoff, the premier said.
“It seems apparent to us that we’ll have around the same number if not more cases tomorrow,” she said.
All bar two of the new cases have already been linked directly to the Avalon cluster.
New South Wales (NSW) Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant told reporters on Saturday that only three of all cases diagnosed so far are not linked to the Avalon Bowlo or Avalon RSL, the two venues at the centre of the cluster.
She also confirmed sewerage testing in the northern beaches returned a negative result for the virus on Dec. 10, indicating the first community case occurred after then.
Berejiklian also urged northern beaches residents not to panic buy and hinted citywide restrictions could yet be imposed.
Greater Sydney residents are also asked to abandon all non-essential activity.
“The response in Greater Sydney will not be anywhere near the tough position we’ve taken in relation to northern beaches,” she said. “But I do want to say to Greater Sydney please, please do not go out tonight, or the next few days, unless you really have to.”
She added: “Please don’t leave your home unless you have to.”
The new cases come as NSW Health asks hundreds of gym-goers on Sydney’s northern beaches to get tested and isolate immediately.
Authorities issued a public health alert on Saturday morning, calling several hundred people who attended Anytime Fitness on Avalon Parade on Dec. 6, 7, 8, 11 and 12 to come forward after a confirmed case visited the gym.
Authorities are in the process of tracking down close contacts but are asking anyone who attended the gym on those days to get tested immediately and isolate until further advice.
The gym adds to a lengthy list of venues visited by confirmed cases published by authorities on Friday afternoon.
Other states acted on Thursday and Friday to prevent the cluster jumping borders, with more barriers for NSW residents erected by Western Australia, Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory.
Berejiklian again urged her interstate counterparts to take a proportional response to the outbreak.
“I would have done the same had I been in their shoes in terms of declaring the northern beaches a hotspot,” she said. “It is a hotspot, no denying that, but… there’s no evidence that it’s outside northern beaches.”
Genomic sequencing has connected the cluster to a U.S. strain of the virus, which may have entered NSW in a returned traveller in early December.
That traveller has never left the hotel quarantine system, meaning the connection between that case and the northern beaches remains unclear.