Sydney Makes Mask-Wearing Mandatory as Australia Fights Clusters

Mask-wearing in Sydney will become compulsory in most indoor public venues as Australian health authorities battle to get on top of new virus clusters that have disrupted the nation’s peak summer holiday period.

All residents of Australia’s largest city will be required from Monday to wear masks when shopping, on public transport, in cinemas and casinos and in places of worship, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney on Saturday. Individuals breaching the rule, which will also apply in Wollongong, Central Coast and Blue Mountains, will be issued with a A$200 ($154) fine, she said.

New South Wales added seven new locally-acquired cases in the past 24 hours, increasing the size of a cluster originally confined to the Northern Beaches region of Sydney that spread to other areas of the city and has now infected more than 150 people. The premier on Saturday announced other restrictions, including stricter size limits on gym classes, weddings and funerals.

“This strategy in New South Wales is to keep life as normal as possible but also to make sure we maintain and even increase economic activity,” Berejiklian said.

The announcement came as the neighboring state of Victoria said it had detected 10 new virus cases acquired through local transmission, the majority linked to an outbreak in the capital Melbourne. That city last year endured one of the world’sstrictest and longest lockdowns, and had previously been the only place in Australia where mask-wearing had been mandatory.

Australia has managed to largely suppress community transmission through rigorous testing and contact tracing, and by placing restrictions on international arrivals and isolating all travelers returning from overseas trips for 14 days in quarantine hotels.

Authorities believe the new outbreaks in Australia’s two most-populous states are likely connected, with the removal of most interstate border restrictions allowing people to travel more freely during the peak summer holiday season. The detection of the latest clusters has led some states to reinstall hard borders, including that between Victoria and New South Wales.

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