Australia Covid update: epidemiologists say NSW premier has no choice but to extend Sydney lockdown

By Mostafa Rachwani

Epidemiologists say an extension of greater Sydney’s Covid lockdown is likely given daily case numbers are continuing to fluctuate.

New South Wales reported 18 locally acquired Covid cases on Tuesday with the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, saying she would announce on Wednesday whether the state’s lockdown would be extended beyond Friday.

Prof Catherine Bennett, the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, said authorities didn’t have a choice and an extension was inevitable in her view.

“I don’t think there is a choice now, the proportion of cases infectious in the community, even if just a day, is still sufficient to make it problematic,” Bennett said. “If you open up, and these people could be mixing in the community, you could get back very quickly to higher numbers.”

Bennett said the key remained the number of cases that weren’t in isolation for their entire infectious period.

“The focus is absolutely on those cases that are reported all being isolated for their full infectious period,” she said. “You want to see that for a few days, to make sure that that’s now the pattern, and you’re not seeing other new cases emerge.”

Berejiklian pointedly said on Tuesday that the length of the lockdown would be informed by the fact the NSW government wanted this to be the state’s last lockdown. “We intend for this lockdown to be the only lockdown we go through,” she said.

Prof Sarah Palmer, the co-director of the Centre for Virus Research at the Westmead Institute for Medical Research, said numbers needed to decrease before the lockdown could be lifted.

“We need to see a trajectory of numbers decreasing,” she said.

“You’d need to have several days where we see the infection frequency decrease, indicating that the numbers within the community have been identified, and we’re not going to see additional outbreaks.

“With this Delta variant, we have to be very, very vigilant. It’s an extremely infectious variant, if the numbers do not look good tomorrow, I would expect the lockdown will be extended, for the safety of people living in Sydney.”

Berejiklian earlier on Tuesday said residents shouldn’t feel “concerned” or “worried” about the lockdown and she would make the decision “as late as possible”.

“I understand more than anything what our community wants is certainty,” the premier said.

“People want to know what life will look like beyond Friday midnight and I’m keen to provide that certainty to people tomorrow so that people can make arrangements if they need to moving forward.

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“Obviously, what will be foremost in our decision-making as a government and with my colleagues is the health advice.”

Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour were scheduled to emerge from lockdown on Friday, but with case numbers remaining stubbornly high, Berejiklian refused to rule out an extension.

“I don’t want to say anything until I’m certain about what the health advice will be and what decisions we are making.

“I said over the weekend that we anticipated numbers to bounce around, so we are actually seeing exactly what we thought would occur. I hope to be able to communicate to the community tomorrow on what next week looks like.”

A third staff member at the SummitCare aged care facility in Baulkham Hills tested positive but the NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said there was no further resident exposures.

“The person tested positive, but as you know we go back to assess whether there could have been exposures to anyone else in the facility, pleasingly, there were no further resident exposures but there were a small number of additional staff contacts identified [and] an action has been taken to put those staff members into isolation,” Chant said on Tuesday.

Chant said that of the active cases in NSW, 26 were in hospital, six were in intensive care, with two patients on ventilators.

“Of those in ICU, one is aged in their early 50s, one in their early 60s, three in their 70s and one in their 80s.”

Chant thanked guests who attended a party at the Meriton Suites at Waterloo for their cooperation after breaking the rules. Seven people who attended the party have now tested positive as well as five household contacts.

“Can I genuinely thank the young people who attended that party who have cooperated with our contact tracers and given us the information, who have got the message out to their family and friends and have associated with that gathering,” she said.

One new case in Queensland

Queensland recorded one new locally acquired case – a close contact of a previously reported case – with the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, saying the woman was in home quarantine.

The state’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said the woman was asymptomatic and had been classified as “low risk”, but was a student nurse and so authorities were taking extra precautions.

“We are just working through whether there is any other venues of concern but remember, we were in lockdown for four days for most of that timeframe. I am not particularly concerned but we will go and double-check,” Young said.

It comes as a “fairly motivated” woman was charged with attempting to escape hotel quarantine. The Queensland police deputy commissioner, Steve Gollschewski, told reporters on Tuesday that a woman who had come from Sydney had allegedly scaled two balconies and damaged a door to escape.

“She was placed in hotel quarantine in Cairns, and was found to be missing yesterday. It appears this person scaled two balconies, gone down an outside staircase and has damaged a door to escape,” he said.

“Upon being discovered, police have conducted inquiries and that 32-year-old was located last night in Cairns.”

Gollschewski said the woman was found at her mother’s residence in Cairns, and was in custody facing a “number” of charges.

Police said she tested negative on her first test in hotel quarantine, and results of a second test were pending.

Sixth straight day of zero cases in Victoria

Victoria recorded its sixth straight day of no new locally acquired cases, with the testing commander, Jeroen Weimar, saying any changes to restrictions would be announced by Thursday.

Weimar also said that border restrictions, especially those with NSW, would likely remain, saying there’s still a “fairly long way to run in Sydney”.

“I don’t think there’s anything we’ve yet seen that would give us confidence,” he said.

It comes as the Melbourne Grand Prix was cancelled for the second year in a row, after negotiations over a quarantine hub for drivers broke down.

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said some events were “impossible in a pandemic.”