The Australian military is being deployed to enforce coronavirus lockdowns in Sydney after COVID-19 cases have remained high despite restrictions being active for five weeks.
Officials in Sydney have ordered mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors as an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant is putting suburbs at risk of spreading the virus, Reuters reported.
This week, the beginning of the sixth week of lockdowns, the state of New South Wales reported 170 new local cases, mostly in the capital of Sydney, which is down from a record 239 cases a day before. At least 42 of the people who tested positive for COVID spend time in the community while contagious.
Residents of areas with high numbers of infections must stay within three miles of their homes and be tested for COVID every three days in order to be permitted to do essential work outside their area.
In response to fears of community spread, about 300 Australian army personnel will be deployed on Monday to assist police by going door to door to the homes of people who have tested positive for COVID to ensure people are obeying the restrictions.
"The sheer volume of increase over the last week (means) the level of compliance (enforcement) has gone from hundreds into thousands," said Mick Fuller, the police commissioner of New South Wales.
Police have already been given the power to close businesses found to be in violation of the restrictions. The army personnel will be under police command and will not be armed.
Public health officials in Australia said that people are waiting too long to get tested after developing COVID symptoms and are risking spreading the virus to vulnerable family members or other people in the community.
The increased enforcement measures are being met with resistance from Sydney residents, many of whom are immigrants to their communities.
"They've got no other ideas than to bring in the military as a last resort because they're lost for answers on issues they created," Steve Christou, mayor of the suburb of Cumberland, where 60% of its 240,000 residents are immigrants, said.
"They are a poor community, they are a vulnerable community, and they don't deserve these lockdowns or these extended and harsh measures that they have now been targeted with," he told Reuters.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Australia has adopted some of the strictest lockdown policies of any developed nation. While their overall case count is much lower than other countries, estimated at 34,000 cases and fewer than 1,000 dead, only 18% of Australians over age 16 have been fully vaccinated against COVID.
Government officials say lockdown policies will continue until more people become vaccinated.