A quarter of a million people in Sydney's northern beach suburbs have been ordered into a strict lockdown until Christmas Eve to help contain a coronavirus cluster with authorities fearing it may spread across Australia's most populous city.
New South Wales (NSW) state government is to announce tomorrow whether further restrictions will be imposed on the rest of Sydney, home to around five million people.
"I want to make that clear, to say to greater Sydney, please, please, do not go out tonight or the next few days unless you really have to," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a news conference.
The outbreak now totals 39 with two additional cases still under investigation. This is up from five only two days ago, but authorities do not know the origin of the virus, which genome testing suggests is a US strain.
Australia has avoided the worst of the pandemic due to border closures, lockdowns, widespread testing and social distancing. It has recorded a total of around 28,100 infections.
Until this week, the country had gone more than two weeks without any local transmission and had lifted most restrictions ahead of Christmas.
The Sydney outbreak prompted states and territories to reimpose border restrictions, sending holiday travel plans for thousands into chaos.
Western Australia state said it would reimpose a hard border closure from midnight and other states such as Victoria may do the same if the Sydney cluster spreads rapidly.
The island state of Tasmania imposed a 14-day quarantine for all Sydney arrivals placing the annual Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race starting Boxing Day is in jeopardy.
The Sydney lockdown will mean people in the designated area will only be allowed to leave home for one of four essential reasons: grocery shopping, work, compassionate grounds, including emergency medical treatment, or visiting an isolated relative.
Local media reported panic buying in some supermarkets in the area, leaving shelves empty. By nightfall, beachside streets, usually thronging with people a week before Christmas, were eerily deserted.
Many restaurants, cafes and 14 hotels in the area voluntarily closed this weekend. Major public facilities in the area, such as swimming pools, beaches and playgrounds, have been closed and visitors banned from age care facilities.
Authorities have pinpointed two clubs at Avalon beach as the original transmission sites for the cluster, but have issued more than 30 potential secondary transmission sites, as far away as Bondi and Cronulla beaches in the east and south of the city.
After more than 12,000 tests were conducted yesterday, people queued in Sydney for hours today to get tested and people rushed to stores to stock up on foodstuff.
"That is the community responding in the way we want them to respond," Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Paul Kelly said.
Italy under new restrictions over Christmas, New Year
Meanwhile, Italy, one of the countries worst hit by Covid-19, will be placed under new restrictions over the Christmas and New Year periods, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced late yesterday.
Under the new measures, shops, bars and restaurants will be closed and travel between regions will be banned, and in theory only one daily outside trip per household will be permitted.
Religious celebrations will be allowed until 10pm.
"Our experts fear that the infection curve will increase during the Christmas period," Mr Conte said.
The prime minister conceded that the authorities had neither the means nor the will to monitor compliance with containment measures, but he asked Italians to respect a new limit of people hosting two adult guests at home.
Food shops, hairdressing salons, pharmacies, tobacconists and laundries as well as bookstores will, however, remain open.
Mr Conte specified that the confinement would be relaxed on 28, 29, 30 December, as well as on 4 January.
On these days, shops can remain open until 9pm and people will be allowed to move about freely.
Italy has 60 million inhabitants and one of the oldest populations in Europe.
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Macron remains in stable condition
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has tested positive for the coronavirus, is in stable condition, and examinations had given reassuring results, a statement from his office said.
Mr Macron, who is working in self-isolation from an official residence outside Paris, "is still presenting the same symptoms of the Covid-19 illness (fatigue, coughing, stiffness)", said the brief statement, signed by his doctor.
But they were not preventing him from carrying out his duties.
Yesterday, Mr Macron had promised to provide a daily update and, for the time, posted on social media a short video message filmed on his own phone.
Speaking of the general situation in France, where the number of deaths passed 60,000 yesteray, he warned: "We have to be vigilant as the virus is gaining in strength again."
The French authorities are concerned that the holiday period could see a new spike in infections.
Yesterday, a total 15,674 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours in France, down from 18,254 the previous day.