Australia Covid update: NSW records 38 cases, highest daily number since Sydney outbreak began

By Calla Wahlquist

New South Wales has recorded 38 new local Covid cases, including 20 people who were in the community for part or all of their infectious period, as the premier urged the community to further restrict movement.

NSW police on Thursday announced a crackdown on compliance with lockdown rules in Sydney’s south-western suburbs, with more than 100 officers, including mounted police, to begin patrolling the area on Friday.

The NSW government has been criticised for seemingly employing more heavy-handed tactics in the multicultural west as opposed to the affluent inner east, where the outbreak started, with the NSW senator Mehreen Faruqi branding it a “double standard”.

Police said, however, that all suburbs were being treated equally.

“This is no different to previous operations where there were high numbers of cases,” a spokesperson said. “The mounted unit have indeed been deployed to Bondi beach and the Northern Beaches during the pandemic.”

The premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said on Thursday daily case numbers, the highest in NSW since the current outbreak began, were “too high” but that it was still “achievable” for the lockdown to end next Friday, “assuming everybody does the right thing”.

But she backed away from a suggestion NSW would just lift lockdown regardless of case numbers, saying “you can’t live with the Delta variant unless you have a certain proportion of the population vaccinated”.

“We need to get those numbers down,” she said.

“I want to say in the most, strongest possible terms, please avoid contact with households, with other households, please avoid visiting family and friends.

“The strongest message is – do not visit people outside your household in indoor settings.”

That meant reducing the number of visits conducted for care and compassionate reasons to actual caregiving visits – dropping off essential supplies, not just visiting relatives.

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Berejiklian said NSW could still get to “where we need to go” at the end of the third week of lockdown “if every single person does the right thing”.

“That is a big ask because we know that unfortunately, unintentionally at times, people don’t do the right thing, so it’s really important for all of us to have equal responsibility,” she said.

“For us to think that we can control a very contagious variant without having a certain proportion of the population vaccinated would be an unrealistic assumption, and that is why it is really important for all of us to do the right thing.”

The 38 new cases recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday from nearly 40,000 tests is a jump from the previous day’s figure of 27.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced several financial support measures for people affected by Sydney lockdown – and any other declared hotspot subject to three or more weeks of stay-at-home orders.

That included the liquid assets test, currently applied to individual payment of $325 and $500, to be waived for the third week to make it more widely available.

He also announced 300,000 more vaccines for NSW to be targeted on the south-western suburbs of Sydney.

NSW Health said 26 cases were linked to a known case or cluster – 13 were household contacts and 13 were close contacts – and the source of infection for 12 cases remained under investigation.

There had been 395 locally acquired cases reported since the latest outbreak began on 16 June.

Three people were on ventilators, and 11 in total were in intensive care. About 40 people had been admitted to hospital with Covid since the outbreak began. Of those currently in hospital, 17 were under the age of 55 and 10 were under the age of 35, including one of the people in ICU.

The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said her comments on Tuesday that this should be a reminder to young people about the seriousness of the virus were intended as a call to action.

“My messaging around young people is that you have a great role to play,” she said. “We know that you often support others with caring functions and again to listen to those messages, to make sure that they are essential caring functions ... so if granny says they want to have a visit, please do it on the phone or FaceTime. Please explain to others why it is so important that we don’t have that connectivity across households at this time.”

NSW Health also confirmed that a fifth aged care worker at SummitCare Baulkham Hills had come down with the virus, but was already isolating. Six residents to date have caught Covid-19.

The NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, also walked back from comments he made on Wednesday that NSW may “have to accept that the virus has a life which will continue in the community”.

They prompted the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, to say his state may maintain a hard border with NSW if it failed to “crush and kill the virus”, at least until vaccination rates in Australia had reached an acceptable level.

Asked to respond to the threat of a permanent hard border, Berejiklian said: “At least he’s consistent.”

McGowan responded on Thursday by saying “if a state goes rogue” on the national suppression strategy “other states would have to have precautions in place”.

The Australian Medical Association also criticised Hazzard’s comments, with the president, Dr Omar Khorshid, saying doing so would put the unvaccinated majority “at real risk of serious disease, and potentially worse”.

“It is not something we should accept, and it’s not something our hospitals could cope with,” he said.

“Lockdowns, when complied with, work. Victoria has beaten back Covid through lockdowns, and come out the other side stronger and safer. Sydney can, and must, do the same.”

On Thursday, Hazzard said his comments about living with the virus were in the context of achieving higher vaccination rates. Chant said they would need 80% of the community fully vaccinated to be covered.

Queensland records two new local cases

The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said Thursday’s two new cases were linked to a mother and daughter from Carindale in south-east Brisbane who tested positive last week.

She said both cases, one in their teens and another in their 20s, were already in home isolation when they tested positive and had been in isolation since 2 July.

“So we have absolutely no concerns about these two, so this is fantastic news,” Palaszczuk said.

Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said both had been isolating since they were notified they were close contacts on 2 July.

“They have had no public exposure sites, there’s no risk there at all,” Young said. “This is what we always want to see.”

There were 5,700 other people still isolating in Queensland.

The government also clarified the circumstances of how 10 Sunshine Coast university hospital staff were ordered into 14-day isolation after saving the life of a Covid-19 patient on Wednesday.

The patient was being prepared for an MRI scan when they had an allergic reaction to the dye, causing them to go into anaphylactic shock.

The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, said staff, most of whom were vaccinated, were wearing full PPE in their race to stabilise the patient.

“They immediately self-reported that they were concerned that their PPE might be compromised and sought advice as to whether they should be quarantined or not,” D’Ath told reporters.

“So they have gone above and beyond, I want to thank them. I want to thank all of the health workers that work in Covid wards and around our hospitals, because their jobs are not easy.”