Officials in Australia’s New South Wales state have ordered a week-long extension of Sydney’s strict coronavirus lockdown as the city of five million residents struggles to contain an growing outbreak of the delta variant of COVID-19.
The latest lockdown was imposed on June 26 after a Sydney airport limousine driver who had been transporting international air crews tested positive for the variant. More than 300 people have since been infected.
The outbreak has grown to more than 300 people, including 27 new cases reported Wednesday.
“This delta strain is a game-changer,” New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney. “We don’t want to be in a situation where we are constantly having to move between lockdown, no lockdown, lockdown, no lockdown.”
Australia has been largely successful in containing the spread of COVID-19 due to aggressive lockdown efforts, posting just 30,861 total confirmed cases and 910 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. But it has proved vulnerable to fresh outbreaks due to a slow rollout of its vaccination campaign and confusing requirements involving the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine, which is the dominant vaccine in its stockpile.
The new extension for Sydney is set to expire July 16.
South Korea is also undergoing a new wave of COVID-19 infections, with authorities reporting 1,212 new cases on Wednesday, its highest one-day total since Christmas Day, when 1,240 new infections were reported. The 1,212 new cases, the majority from heavily populated Seoul, marks a huge jump from the previous three days, when more than 700 new cases were reported each of those days.
Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said officials will maintain current social distancing rules in Seoul for another week, including a ban on private gatherings of five or more people.
President Moon Jae-in has also ordered the military, police officers and other civil servants to take part in an extensive contact tracing effort.
Health experts say a premature easing of social distancing guidelines, despite a steady increase in new cases, led the public to become complacent and lower its guard.
South Korea and Israel reached an agreement for an even swap of COVID-19 vaccines as both countries seek to jump-start their vaccination campaigns.
The deal calls for Israel to send 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to South Korea later this month, with South Korea sending back an equal amount of the Pfizer vaccine it has already ordered as soon as September.
“This is a win-win deal,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a written statement Tuesday.
As many countries ease pandemic restrictions amid rising vaccination rates, Bangladesh and Russia both broke one-day COVID-19 records.
Moscow announced it would ease travel restrictions on Russians who had been vaccinated as it also reported over 700 deaths from COVID-19 — a one-day record for the country — on Tuesday.
Some 140,000 Russians have died from the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. But observers say the death toll is believed to be much higher.
Bangladesh reported 11,525 positive cases Tuesday, the highest one-day case number since the beginning of the pandemic. The country also saw 163 deaths in the past 24 hours, the government reported.
The country shares a border with India, where the more contagious and serious delta variant emerged. Health experts in Bangladesh believe infection and death numbers are likely higher.
More than 184.6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in late 2019, including 3.9 million fatalities, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center figures. The United States has 33.7 million confirmed infections, followed by India with 30.6 million and Brazil with 18.8 million. The U.S. leads with 605,905 deaths, with Brazil second with 526,892 and India with 404,211.
More than 3.2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered.
This report includes information from the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.