Australia cranks up COVID-19 curbs with army patrols in Sydney

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Australia’s Queensland state on Monday extended a COVID-19 lockdown in Brisbane, while soldiers began patrolling Sydney to enforce stay-at-home rules as Australia struggles to stop the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreading.

Queensland said it had detected 13 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours - the biggest one-day rise the state has recorded in a year. The lockdown of Brisbane, Australia’s third-biggest city, was due to end on Tuesday but will now stay in place until late on Sunday.

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“It’s starting to become clear that the initial lockdown will be insufficient for the outbreak,” Queensland state Deputy Premier Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane.

The rising new case numbers in two of the country’s biggest cities comes as disquiet grows on how the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison is handling the pandemic.

Although Australia’s vaccination drive has lagged many other developed economies, it has so far fared much better in keeping its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just under 34,400 cases. The death toll rose to 925 following the death of a man in his 90s in Sydney.

Australia is going through a cycle of stop-start lockdowns in several cities after the emergence of the fast-moving Delta strain, and such restrictions are likely to persist until the country reaches a much higher level of vaccination coverage.

Prime Minister Morrison has promised lockdowns would be “less likely” once the country inoculates 70 percent of its population above 16 years of age - a percentage which now stands at 19 percent. Morrison expects to hit the 70 percent mark by the end of the year.

Meanwhile the lockdown of Brisbane and several surrounding areas comes as Sydney, the biggest city in the country, begins its sixth week under stay-at-home orders.

New South Wales state, home to Sydney, said on Monday it detected 207 COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours as daily new cases continue to linger near a 16-month high recorded late last week.

The state has recorded more than 3,500 infections since the outbreak begun in June, when a limousine driver contracted the virus while transporting an overseas airline crew, and has asked for military personnel to aid efforts to enforce the restrictions.

Some 300 army personnel, who will be unarmed and under police command, on Monday began door-to-door visits to ensure people who have tested positive are isolating at their homes.

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Army personnel also accompanied police officers around the streets of the areas of Sydney were most COVID-19 cases have been recorded. Footage published online showed police asking the few people encountered on the street as to why they were out of their homes in the largely deserted streets in Sydney’s south west.

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