B’desh, Japan to sign new accordSiberia’s wildfires are unlocking extreme carbon pollutiona traffic light on the side of a snow covered road: COVID-19 lockdown remains in place as outbreak of cases affects Sydney© Reuters/LOREN ELLIOTT COVID-19 lockdown remains in place as outbreak of cases affects Sydney

By Renju Jose

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian authorities on Friday extended a COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney until the end of September and introduced a night curfew in the city’s worst-affected suburbs, after nearly two months of curbs failed to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian also announced the city’s 5 million residents must wear a mask as soon as they step outside their homes, except when exercising which has been limited to an hour a day.

Berejiklian said she had been forced to impose tougher restrictions because of both an escalation in the number of COVID-19 cases and the fact that some people continued to flout lockdown rules.

“I asked health and police to work together, to give me a final list of what we can throw at this, to leave no shadow of a doubt as to how serious we are about getting the rate of growth down, the case numbers down,” Berejiklian said in a televised media conference.

Berejiklian reported 644 new infections on Friday, most of them in Sydney, down from a record 681 hit a day earlier. Daily cases have topped 400 for the past seven days. Four new deaths were announced, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 65.

Australia, which has successfully suppressed the virus for most of the pandemic, is struggling to contain the Delta outbreak, a sharp turnaround for a country which had experienced only sporadic flare-ups for several months this year.

In the 12 local council areas at the epicentre of Sydney’s outbreak, a curfew will be in place from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. from Monday.

Police has been given sweeping new powers to ensure compliance with lockdown measures across the city, which have been in place since June 26, and limit the movement of people.

“If someone enters a (local government area) of concern without excuse, not only will they be fined, they will be sent home and they will have to self isolate for 14 days,” New South Wales state Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said.

Despite a third wave of infections from the Delta variant, which has thrown more than half of the country’s 25 million population under strict stay-at-home orders, Australia’s COVID-19 numbers are relatively low, with some 42,100 cases and 975 deaths.

But a slow national vaccination programme, with only about 28% of people above 16 fully vaccinated, has left the country vulnerable to more deaths and hospitalisations.

With the outbreak showing no signs of abating, many economists predict the curbs will push the country’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy into its second recession in as many years.

(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Jane Wardell)

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