MELBOURNE - Sydney, one of the world's first major cities to welcome each New Year with a public countdown featuring a fireworks display over its well-known Opera House, has banned large gatherings that night amid an outbreak of the coronavirus.
A mid-December resurgence of COVID-19 in the city's northern beach suburbs has grown to 125 cases after five new infections were recorded on Monday. About a quarter of million of people there must stay in strict lockdown until Jan. 9.
That has led to further restrictions of the already toned-down plans for the New Year's Eve. New South Wales (NSW) Premier Gladys Berejiklian banned most people from coming to Sydney's downtown that night and limited outdoor gatherings to 50 people.
"We don't want to create any super-spreading events on New Year's Eve, which then ruins it for everybody across the state moving forward," Berejiklian said at a news conference, adding that watching the fireworks from home was the 'safest' way to do so.
"On New Year's Eve we don't want any crowds on the foreshore around Sydney whatsoever," she said.
Only residents with permits for hospitality venues downtown will be allowed there on New Year's Eve. Households across Sydney are only allowed to host 10 people until further notice.
NSW Police have issued 15 notices for breaking public health orders since Christmas Eve in Sydney, including to 11 people at a house party at North Bondi on Saturday.
"When most of New South Wales, indeed most of Australia, is doing the right thing, I would say to those people half contemplating doing anything stupid in the next few days, forget it," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
Australia as a whole, has avoided the worst of the pandemic due to swift border closures, lockdowns, widespread testing and social distancing. It has recorded just over 28,300 infections, the overwhelming majority in Victoria state, and 908 deaths.