University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely said the New South Wales government should have locked down the northern beaches outbreak 48 to 72 hours earlier.
“They have been slow,” he said, adding that he was also one of many experts in Australia who were scratching their heads over why the state was unwilling to impose masks.
On Saturday, Berejiklian gave in somewhat to the mask policy. From midnight Saturday, masks will be mandatory in shopping malls, on public transport, in places of entertainment such as a cinema, and fines will take effect on Monday.
In December, many states freely opened their borders to other states, and the hope was that Australia would be fully open before Christmas except for international travelers. But the Sydney North Beach outbreak has new restrictions in place.
The most recent came at midnight on Friday when Victoria closed its border with New South Wales, causing bottlenecks as people rushed to beat the closure. Once in Victoria, COVID-19 testing sites saw long lines as travelers lined up for mandatory testing. Anyone who could not return within that time was quarantined for 14 days.
Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region:
– South Korea will extend strict distancing rules for another two weeks to suppress a viral resurgence, as it has confirmed its first cases of a seemingly more contagious variant of COVID-19 detected in South Africa. Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said on Saturday that the second-highest level of distancing rules, called “Tier-2.5”, will remain in place in the greater Seoul area until January 17. areas until then. South Korea reported 824 new cases, bringing the national total to 62,593 with 942 deaths. This is the first time the country’s daily tally has fallen below 800 since December 28. The Seoul area has been at the center of the outbreak, accounting for around 70% of cases. Kwon says the government will not enforce the toughest restrictions in the Seoul area because the country’s daily tally currently hovers around 1,000 with no more surges. He says concerns about the economy have also been addressed. Nationwide restrictions include banning social gatherings of more than five people and in-person religious services. South Korea also said the first confirmed case of the South African variant of the coronavirus was found in a person who arrived on December 26 from the country. Four more cases of a British variant also considered to be more contagious were reported on Saturday, bringing the total to nine. The government plans to require all foreigners entering South Korea to submit negative results for the COVID-19 test, effective January 8.