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Parts of Sydney were en route to a new lockdown on Saturday as officials in Australia’s most populous city hoped the restrictions would be enough to control a growing outbreak in time for Christmas.

When a group of cases on the city’s northern beaches rose to 38, residents were ordered to stay home from late Saturday until midnight on Wednesday, except for essential reasons.

“We hope that we have enough time to familiarize ourselves with the virus so that we can relax on Christmas and New Years,” said Gladys Berejiklian, the Prime Minister of New South Wales, the capital of which is Sydney.

Starting at 5 p.m. on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people will be forced inside in several suburbs with closed beaches, pubs and hotels.

Although the restrictions – enforced by the police – only apply to the northern beaches, Berejiklian asked Sydney’s more than five million residents to stay home as much as possible in the coming days.

“Can I ask everyone to give up non-essential activities,” she told the local media on Saturday. “We don’t want the virus to spread outside the northern beaches.”

The guide also pointed to a possible return of some city-wide restrictions should the cluster continue to grow.

Australia’s success in containing the virus has allowed restrictions to be further lifted before Christmas, with domestic travel largely normalizing before the last outbreak.

The loosening of the curbs has raised fears that the new outbreak may have already spread across the country.

A cluster-related case was discovered in neighboring Queensland, prompting officials to announce restrictions on travelers from Sydney, forcing many into isolation.

Masks are still not mandatory in the city, but residents of the northern beaches have been encouraged to wear them inside at all times.

Australia has recorded over 28,000 COVID-19 cases and 908 deaths related to the virus in a population of approximately 25 million.

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© 2020 AFP

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