Health authorities in New South Wales (NSW) reported a slowdown in Sydney's outbreak of COVID-19 on Thursday - but local media reports that Melbourne is next to bear the brunt of lockdown as the highly contagious Delta variant threatens to take hold in the Victorian capital.
NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said case numbers in Sydney would need to drop significantly for the city of five million to move out of lockdown, given 28 out of the 65 new infections reported were people who were infectious while active in the community.
"Whilst the case numbers are bouncing around, we are seeing a stabilisation. They are not growing exponentially," Berejiklian said in Sydney.
Berejiklian described the new case numbers as a "welcome drop", but warned infections could rise due to the growing number of people with the Delta strain moving around in the community, particularly in Sydney's south-west.
NSW officials said out of the more than 900 people who have been infected during the latest outbreak, 73 have been hospitalised, with 19 people in intensive care. Two deaths have been reported, the first for the country this year.
Sydney's lockdown began on June 26 and will remain in place until at least July 30.
Meanwhile, Melbourne is expected to enter lockdown from midnight, according to a report by the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC), after a team of furniture movers from neighbouring NSW travelled through Victoria while infectious.
Authorities have yet to decide on the length of lockdown, ABC added, without providing further details.
Victorian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
Virus spreads south
Dozens of venues in Melbourne - including a shopping centre, two public transport routes and a sporting club - have been listed as locations where exposure to the virus may have occurred, adding pressure on authorities to tighten restrictions.
On Wednesday, rules requiring mandatory mask use indoors were reintroduced for Victoria's more than six million residents after the state recorded 10 new cases.
Two additional cases were reported in Victoria on Thursday. Both people were spectators at an Australian Football League game held in Melbourne's main sports stadium, the MCG, last weekend.
"We're certainly confident we're right on the heels of this particular outbreak," said Victoria's coronavirus response commander, Jeroen Weimar, referring to the system of tracking those who may be exposed to the virus. Melbourne has been the Australian city hardest hit by the pandemic, and a new lockdown would be its fifth.
In South Australia, authorities have identified a third venue visited by the workers, while two regional towns in NSW, including one near the border with Victoria and about 500km southwest of Sydney, were on alert after the team stopped at service stations.
With just over 31,400 cases and 912 deaths since the pandemic began, Australia has handled the COVID-19 crisis better than many other developed countries although its sluggish immunisation drive has taken some of the shine off this success.
Just over 12 percent Australia's adult population of around 20.5 million have been fully vaccinated, with officials pointing to changing medical advice for vaccines and supply constraints.