Sydney, Melbourne record no new COVID-19 local infections

The major Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne recorded no locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, marking a positive improvement in the effort to control a recent outbreak.

One case was diagnosed overnight and will officially be included in Friday’s figures, which officials said was connected to the initial outbreak zone on Sydney’s Northern Beaches which totaled roughly 150 infections.

“Investigations as to the source of this gentleman’s infection are urgently underway,” New South Wales (NSW) Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant said.

The region was scheduled to remain in lockdown until Jan. 9, with health officials monitoring the situation to decide whether that time frame would be extended.

“I know (the Northern Beaches) has been in lockdown for quite a while, but this actually explains why we need to be cautious,” Chant said.

Meanwhile, the absence of new cases elsewhere in the city has bolstered confidence ahead of a planned five-day cricket match between Australia and India, commencing at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) on Thursday.

Restrictions regarding spectators at the match were progressively tightened in the days leading up to it, including slashing stadium capacity to 25 percent, barring residents from COVID-19 affected suburbs from entering, and introducing a mandatory face mask rule.

A recent scare involving a potentially infected person who attended a cricket match in Melbourne late last year prompted health officials to mandate on Wednesday evening that masks be worn at all times within the SCG.

Authorities in Sydney have come under pressure to scrap spectators entirely at the event, with NSW opposition leader Jodi McKay criticizing the last minute rule changes as “ridiculous.”

Acting NSW Premier John Barilaro maintained that the match could go ahead with spectators in a safe manner which could also be applied to future sporting events.

“We want to ensure we put on sporting events across the state that are safe to the public, but we also know these events are important to the economy and we believe we can do it in the best COVID way,” Barilaro said.