More than 7.5million New South Wales residents ahead of Gladys Berejiklian’s crisis cabinet meeting on Wednesday, where the premier will decide what Covid restrictions will be imposed for Christmas Day.
New South Wales recorded just eight new cases on Tuesday, raising hopes Sydney’s northern beaches outbreak is being contained – but Ms Berejiklian has refused to rule out a December 25 lockdown.
Seven of the new cases are linked to a cluster from the northern beaches, which now stands at 90, and one is a healthcare worker from Western Sydney who is not linked to the outbreak.
Ms Berejiklian said the government will ‘take a cautious but balanced approach’ when deciding Christmas restrictions, which will be based on several factors including mental health issues.
‘That will be based on the most recent information plus also looking at the trends that have been occurring,’ she said.
‘In particular looking at the multiplicity of venues and what that means outside of the northern beaches.
‘And whilst the vast majority of cases are all linked to those two events on northern beaches, we now know that there’s more venues out there and what risk does that pose?’
Senior NSW government officials are reportedly pushing for restrictions to be eased across Sydney’s northern beaches for Christmas if the state records another single-digit day of infections on Wednesday.
Gladys Berejiklian (left) is likely to impose harsher Christmas restrictions on northern beaches residents, as almost all cases have been linked to the cluster in Avalon
NSW Health on Tuesday night announced more venues now on a public health alert, including Westfield Bondi Junction
But Ms Berejiklian is likely to impose harsher Christmas restrictions on northern beaches residents, as almost all cases have been linked to the cluster in Avalon.
Despite the cluster remaining largely contained, there are fears the virus has spread out to other parts of Sydney, including the CBD, the eastern suburbs and Cronulla.
NSW Health on Tuesday night announced more venues now on a public health alert, including Bondi Junction’s Westfield shopping centre..
Anyone who visited the Westfield on Saturday December 19 between 10am and 1pm is a casual contact and should monitor for symptoms and immediately get tested and isolate if they appear.
Epidemiology experts have warned ‘superspreading’ Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve festivities could lead to more than 3,000 people becoming infected by January 8.
But Ms Berejiklian reassured residents in regional NSW that there is ‘no reason at all’ for the government to consider new restrictions for those parts.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the virus gaining momentum in Greater Sydney is particularly concerning as most Sydney residents aren’t under the northern beaches’ strict lockdown, which started on Saturday.
She said health officials are worried about an outbreak at the Rose of Australia bar in Erskineville where a confirmed case visited on Tuesday, December 15.
Alimentari Deli and Cafe in Paddington was also added to the public health alert venue list on Tuesday night after a staff member worked while infected.
Meanwhile, disease experts and politicians have slammed state and territory leaders for overreacting by shutting their borders to NSW due to the northern beaches outbreak.
On Sunday 20 December Victoria decided to shut its border with New South Wales after Sydney recorded just 30 Covid-19 cases, with all linked to one cluster. By contrast, New South Wales did not decide to close its border to Victoria until the state recorded 127 new local cases on 6 July, with many of them mystery cases. As only eight new cases were reported on Tuesday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said other leaders had lost their nerve, sacrificed their economies and ruined Christmas for millions by shutting the borders so early. She also said it showed they did not trust their tracing systems
Millions have been left separated from loved ones over Christmas after states slammed their borders shut on Sunday as New South Wales reported just 30 new cases with all of them linked to two events in Avalon.
Shutting the borders is an over-reaction because this appears to be a cluster with all the cases linked
Professor Peter Collignon of ANU
By contrast, NSW did not decide to close its border to Victoria until the state recorded 127 new local cases on 6 July, with many of them unlinked cases of mystery transmission.
NSW also kept the border with South Australia open when it suffered a localised outbreak in November with 33 cases linked to Adelaide’s northern suburbs.
On Sunday Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory all banned free movement for Greater Sydney residents while Western Australia blocked out all of NSW.
As only eight new cases were reported on Tuesday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said other leaders had lost their nerve and sacrificed their economies by shutting the borders so early.
‘You have to assess the medical risk against the risk of other things which will harm the community. So we take all of that into consideration in New South Wales,’ she said.
‘That’s why we waited until Victoria had consistently, 120, 140, 180 cases a day before we closed our bored into Victoria. That was a big step we took. There’s an element of holding your nerve.’
She said the fact that other states shut their borders so fast suggests they don’t have confidence in their testing and tracing systems.
‘If you have confidence in your processes and the strategy, you also take that into account,’ she said.
‘I hope people appreciate in New South Wales we try and look at the big picture, we try and be compassionate as well as assessing the health risk and also the impacts on people’s livelihoods and the mental health issues.
‘We try and take a collective approach and we also make sure that the decisions we take consider the eight million people in the state and not just particular groupings in one place or another.’
Queensland slammed its border shut to residents of Greater Sydney from 1am on Monday. Pictured: Officers check cars on the Gold Coast on Monday
Disease expert Professor Peter Collignon of the Australian National University said the move to shut borders was unwarranted.
‘Well I think it is an over-reaction because so far this appears to be a cluster with all the cases linked,’ he told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday morning.
‘The contact tracing and the testing and stopping movement in the Northern Beaches so far seems to be quite effective because even the rest of Sydney hasn’t had leakage from the Northern Beaches that are not known contacts.
‘So far there is no evidence that it is transmitting in the community in ways that the contact tracers don’t know about, unlike Victoria where they had huge numbers of mystery cases and unknown contacts.
‘So it is a very different situation to Melbourne and much lower risk than the Melbourne situation,’ he said in reference to Victoria’s second wave which killed about 800 and infected almost 20,000 people.
Professor Collignon said it is possible that extra transmission in Sydney is not being picked up but this could also be the case in all other states and is therefore not a valid reason to shut the borders.
He pointed to the positive sewage testing in Queensland as an example of how the virus could be bubbling away anywhere in low levels without a positive patient being found.
‘This can pop up at any time and there may be cases in the community,’ he said.
‘The risk is there but equally look at what happened in South Australia when they had their cluster. They identified it and closed it down so all the border closures then had no extra benefit.’
Professor Collignon said Sydney’s previous cluster which began at the Crossroads Hotel on 3 July after an infected freight worker from Melbourne stopped for lunch caused more cases than the current cluster but none transmitted across any borders.
‘At some stage you do have to close down borders and stop movement but I’m not sure this is the level that warrants that. In fact, I think it probably isn’t given our previous history on this,’ he said.
The great escape: About 55,000 passengers left Sydney Airport over the course of Friday, Saturday and Sunday as border restrictions loomed
Travellers have been flocking to Sydney’s domestic terminal (pictured, left and right on Monday) desperately trying to get back to their home states before border restrictions come in
On Monday night New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro hit back at Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan who had urged a Sydney-wide lockdown.
‘McGowan’s a goose and, typical to Labor form before an election, they want to play the game of beating the chest and being critical of this state,’ Mr Barilaro told Sky News.
He also slated Victoria for closing its borders, saying: ‘We closed the border on Victoria when the cases reached 140 a day then they became 180 then 200.
‘We didn’t hit the trigger until 140 a day and to have Victoria close its borders on 15 today, I tell you what, we’re not getting the same respect back.’
Earlier on Monday Premier Berejiklian accused other state premiers of being too quick to shut their borders.
‘All I’m saying to colleagues around the country is please think about the heartbreak and please think about the facts when you’re making these decisions,’ Ms Berejiklian said.
‘Because it impacts so many people.’
Scott Morrison then leaped to the state’s defence, saying NSW took on the ‘burden’ of returning travellers when others refused.
‘I should stress that New South Wales takes half the international arrivals to Australia every week,’ he said.
Travelers at Sydney International airport on Monday were wearing face masks and face shields as thousands raced out of the state to get away before borders shut
‘So New South Wales has been carrying the lion’s share of bring Australians home.
‘That means they have more aircrew and pilots and challenges in managing that and any other state or territory in the Commonwealth.’
Ms Berejiklian reminded her counterparts that she had no done the same, particularly when Victorian case numbers were low.
‘For example, the only time that New South Wales has closed the border to anyone was Victoria,’ the premier said.
‘Their case numbers were more than 140 a day before we took that decision and it was subsequently then up to 180.’
The number of local cases in Sydney
17 December: Three cases
18 December: 15 cases
19 December: 23 cases
20 December: 30 cases
21 December: 15 cases
22 December: Eight cases
Total: 94 cases with 90 linked to Avalon cluster
Ms Berejiklian urged her fellow premiers to be mindful of Christmas and the fact many families have dealt with almost a year of inconsistent border closures.
‘Yes, of course, I’m concerned by what’s happening in New South Wales. But every response has to be proportionate to the risk,’ she said.
‘It impacts not just people in New South Wales, but people in your home states that may not have been reunited with family or friends or significant others for a long period of time.
‘It is a very emotional time of the year.’
She also noted that the majority of Australians arriving back from overseas have passed through quarantine in NSW before returning to other states.
‘We’re doing our bit in terms of bringing home your travelers – 45 per cent of people who come through are from other states – please consider the heavy load New South Wales has been lifting to bring back Aussies.’
New South Wales recorded just eight new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, raising hopes Sydney’s outbreak is being contained – but Ms Berejiklian has refused to rule out a Christmas lockdown.
Seven cases are linked to a cluster from the Northern Beaches, which now stands at 90, and one is a healthcare worker from Western Sydney who is not linked to the outbreak.
The healthcare worker transported a symptomatic family of three on 14 December after they returned from the US and went into hotel quarantine – and has also transported patients between hospitals, homes and care facilities.
Those patients and other contacts are being urgently contacted and told to isolate as investigations into the source of the case continue.
A very quiet Avalon shopping village in the northern beaches of Sydney on Tuesday as the area remains locked down
A close workplace contact of the healthcare worker tested positive after 8pm on Tuesday, meaning that case will be included in Wednesday’s figures.
A record 44,466 people got tested in NSW on Monday, beating Sunday’s record of 38,578 as residents responded to the call to get swabbed if they notice any symptoms.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the virus has been spreading outside the Northern Beaches and has updated a list of venues that have been attended by positive cases including the Rose of Australia in Erskineville, Elementary Cafe in Paddington and BodyFit gym in Blacktown.
‘We are concerned about transmission events occurring outside the Northern Beaches because residents in those areas are not subject to the same lockdown provisions as in the Northern Beaches,’ she said.
A 15-year-old girl from Moonee Valley, Melbourne has tested positive in Victoria after she visited several of the high-risk exposure sites in Sydney, including the Avalon RSL and Avalon Bowlo, while on a trip to visit relatives.
The girl drove home from Sydney with her mother and then isolated before getting a test. They stopped once at Oliver’s Real Food Outlet in Gundagai, New South Wales. The mother is negative for Covid-19 and other family members are being tested.
An almost deserted Avalon Beach on Tuesday. The area is normally crowded with Christmas and summer holidaymakers