Australia's virus cluster expands further as masks made compulsory

Swati Pandey, Reuters

Posted at Jan 03 2021 10:16 AM

People wearing masks walk through a mostly empty domestic terminal at Sydney Airport after surrounding states shut their borders to New South Wales in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, December 21, 2020. Loren Elliott, Reuters

SYDNEY - Australia's most-populous state of New South Wales on Sunday reported eight new COVID-19 cases as new social distancing restrictions and mandatory mask wearing kicked in while neighboring Victoria had three new cases.

The New South Wales outbreak, which began around mid-December at Sydney's Northern Beaches, now totals 148. There are also smaller clusters in Sydney's west and south, which authorities fear could rise in coming days.

NSW will enforce mask wearing from midnight in indoor venues like gaming rooms, hair salons, nail salons and retail shops.

"I would encourage the community across Greater Sydney, to wear masks in compliance with the law, but do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it for your community, that's the main reason," said state Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Victoria's three cases on Sunday were all linked to the same Melbourne restaurant, though the source of the infection is still under investigation.

Health authorities have identified 220 "close contacts" and more than 50 "exposure sites" linked to positive cases.

But, "what is important is that they are in quarantine when they are diagnosed so that the risk of onward transmission is reduced," Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said in Melbourne.

Victoria, which now has more than 30 active cases, has made masks mandatory across the state while limiting gatherings and shutting its border to NSW.

Cheng said there are now 21 cases linked to the cafe and family gatherings of people linked to the Smile Buffalo Thai cafe in the bayside suburb of Black Rock in Melbourne.

However, Cheng reiterated the source is still unknown.

"We are looking at several lines of investigation," Cheng said.

"We have had more genomic results back... and they are all consistent with transmissions between each other and are also linked to the New South Wales cluster."

Australia has reported more than 28,450 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. 

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