Australia Covid: Actors under investigation

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Australian police are investigating actors Natalie Portman and Sacha Baron Cohen for a potential breach of Sydney’s lockdown.

Photos have emerged of the Hollywood stars taking a boat ride on Sydney Harbour on Monday.

New South Wales Police confirmed to the BBC that they are conducting inquiries after members of the public raised concerns.

On Friday, harsher Covid restrictions were announced for the city.

According to Sydney’s stay-at-home order, people should only leave their homes for essential reasons.

Australia’s largest city has been in lockdown since 26 June to combat a 400-case outbreak of the Delta variant.

But the case rate has continued to climb, officials say, partly because of people breaking the rules.

Paparazzi shots published by The Daily Mail showed Baron Cohen, Portman and her husband, choreographer Benjamin Millepied, on a boat ride on Sydney Harbour.

Before Friday, people were allowed to gather outside in groups of 10 but only for “essential” exercise.

NSW Police declined to specify which rule breach was being investigated in relation to the Hollywood stars, noting they were still establishing who was present at the scene.

They confirmed that efforts were being made to contact the actors.

Portman and Millepied have been in Sydney since January for filming commitments. Baron Cohen and his Australian wife Isla Fisher also entered the country last year.

Since March 2020, Australia has shut its borders to almost all foreigners in a controversial policy that has also prevented citizens and family members from entering the country.

However, it has granted entry permits to thousands – including dozens of celebrities, sports players, and business people. Those exemptions have sparked public outrage.

On Friday, police increased their lockdown patrols, sending 100 extra officers to affected virus suburbs in Sydney’s south-west.

However locals criticised the stronger police presence in the poorer and more ethnically-diverse suburbs – arguing that police weren’t deployed to Bondi, and the more affluent areas of Sydney when the virus emerged there in mid June.

Authorities have strongly denied accusations of discrimination.

New South Wales reported 44 new cases of the Delta variant on Friday, all in its state capital Sydney.

Despite two weeks of lockdown, the case rate has continued to rise with transmission across households.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned that locals were facing “the biggest challenge” since the pandemic started.

With more than 90% of the population unvaccinated, authorities have been forced to try and contain the Delta spread by putting the city into lockdown.

Ms Berejiklian flagged that the continued rise in cases suggested the city’s lockdown would have to be extended past the 17 July deadline set earlier this week.

She said there needed to be a “drastic turnaround” in case numbers.

“Until we get to zero or close to zero, we cannot ease restrictions,” she said.

Ms Berejiklian also rejected the idea that authorities might give up on trying to eliminate the virus altogether. The population’s vaccine rates were too low, she said.

“If we chose to live with this while the rates of vaccinations are at 9%, we will see thousands and thousands of hospitalisations and deaths,” she said.

Sydney’s lockdown and Delta outbreak scares in various other cities last week have sparked criticism of federal authorities. Many blame Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government for a slow vaccine rollout.

Australia’s programme began in February when the nation had very few cases. But the rollout was held up by supply problems, public complacency and hesitancy over the side effects of the AstraZeneca jab.

Reporting by Frances Mao



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