SYDNEY - The COVID-19 Delta outbreak in Australia's biggest city Sydney grew by 239 cases on Thursday, the highest daily rise since the pandemic started, forcing authorities to increase police powers to shut down businesses not complying with lockdown measures.
More than two million residents in eight Sydney hotspots will now be forced to wear masks outdoors and must stay within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes.
Sydney is in its fifth week of an extended nine-week lockdown, which is scheduled to end August 28, but the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to grow.
"It only takes a handful of people, or a small percentage, to do the wrong thing, to cause a setback for all of us. We can't afford setbacks," state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
Most new locally acquired cases were detected in Sydney, with at least 66 having spent time in the community while infectious. Authorities have said Sydney's lockdown will not ease until cases in the community are near zero.
New South Wales reported a total of 177 cases a day earlier.
Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia's 25 million population, is grappling with its worst outbreak for this year forcing authorities on Wednesday to extend lockdown restrictions for another month.
More than 2,800 cases have been detected so far, with 182 people hospitalized. Fifty-four are in intensive care, 22 of whom require ventilation. Two new deaths were recorded, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 13.
With only about 17% of people above 16 years fully vaccinated in New South Wales state, infections have steadily risen despite Greater Sydney being in lockdown since June 26.
Greater Sydney's extended lockdown of around 6 million people is expected to take a heavy toll on Australia's A$2 trillion ($1.50 trillion) economy with many businesses forced to close, raising prospects of the country recording its second recession in as many years.
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he expected the national economy to shrink in the September quarter but hoped Australia could avoid a recession if New South Wales suppress the outbreak soon.
"With respect to the December quarter, that does depend to a large extent how successful New South Wales, our largest state economy, is in getting on top of this virus," Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.