* 'Please stay home,' officials plead
* Sydney lockdown until July 16
* Brace for more cases, officials warn Sydney residents
SYDNEY, July 7 (Reuters) - The leader of Australia's New
South Wales (NSW) state on Wednesday ordered a week-long
extension of Sydney's COVID-19 lockdown, warning new cases are
bound to rise as the country's biggest city grapples with the
highly infectious Delta variant.
Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia's 25 million people,
was plunged into lockdown on June 26 as a Delta variant outbreak
persuaded officials to tighten restrictions in a country that
has been slow to vaccinate. Strict stay-at-home orders were due
to end on Friday, but now remain in place until July 16.
"This Delta strain is a game-changer, it is extremely
transmissible and more contagious than any other form of the
virus that we've seen," NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian
told reporters in Sydney.
With Sydney fighting its worst outbreak of the year so far,
total infections have topped 350 since the first case was
detected three weeks ago, in its Bondi beach suburb in a
limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
A total of 27 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 were
reported on Wednesday in NSW, up from 18 a day earlier. Of the
new cases, 20 were either in isolation throughout or for part of
their infectious period, while seven cases spent time in the
community while they were infectious.
Lockdowns, swift contact tracing and a high community
compliance with social distancing rules have helped Australia
suppress past outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively
low, with just over 30,800 cases and 910 deaths. The current
lockdown is Sydney's second since the pandemic began.
As news of the stay-at-home extension broke, Australian
travel-related stocks, like Qantas Airways Ltd, fell in
morning trading. Grocery chains Woolworths Group Ltd
and Coles Group Ltd - expected by investors to benefit
higher sales during lockdowns - were trading about 1% higher,
outpacing a slightly higher overall market.
'PLEASE STAY HOME'
NSW's Berejiklian and health officials warned Sydney
residents they expect cases to rise in the next 24 hours and
urged residents in three areas in the west of the city -
Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool, all seeing a
spike in cases - to avoid stepping out of their homes and
visiting indoor areas.
"Please stay at home ... Do not visit your loved ones, try
and engage through digital means," said NSW state Chief Health
Officer Kerry Chant.
Meanwhile, schools in Sydney will move to remote learning
from next week, after ending their southern hemisphere winter
break on Friday, to eliminate crowding while parents drop and
pick up children.
Unlike many other states, NSW resisted ordering the entire
city into lockdown in early-stage outbreaks, but the highly
transmissible Delta strain forced a rethink.
NSW has had to field criticism from some other states on its
lockdown strategies, although it had the support of the federal
Health authorities are also under fire for inadvertently
vaccinating several high school students, who are at the end of
the vaccination queue, but NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard
criticised media for highlighting the error.
"You know what? The school intended it well. There was a
mistake and so what? It has happened, out of a million
vaccinations. Move on!," Hazzard said.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Kenneth