The greater Sydney lockdown has been extended for a week after New South Wales recorded another 27 local Covid cases and health officials expressed concern about the growing spread of the virus in some south-western suburbs.
The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the decision to extend the lockdown was a difficult but necessary one.
“We appreciate and understand the stress this means for individuals, for families and, of course, for businesses. But what would be far worse is being in a situation where you have to live in and out of lockdown until that period of time when we have the vaccine available to us,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“That is not a way to live and we want to give our citizens the best chance of staying safe and healthy.”
Thirteen of the new cases were not in isolation during their infectious period, a factor that contributed to the decision to extend the lockdown to 11.59pm on Friday 16 July.
Berejiklian singled out three local government areas – Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool – urging residents there to follow public health orders and to limit their movement.
She said there were “concerning statistics on what is happening” in those LGAs, and warned the government would consider stricter restrictions there if case numbers continued to rise.
“Can I say to the communities in those areas, many have a similar background to me, please don’t mingle with family. I haven’t seen my parents since the lockdown started – it is hard,” the premier said. “Can I say to everybody don’t mingle with family, don’t think it is OK to visit your cousins or have sleepovers. Please do not leave the house.”
However, providing care, including to family, remains an acceptable reason to leave home under the continuing health orders.
The extension of the lockdown means students across the city will return to online learning for a week, with exceptions made for students whose parents are essential workers.
Eighteen of the 27 locally acquired cases reported on Wednesday were linked to previous cases, 11 were close contacts and seven were household contacts of a previous case. Berejiklian said she expected case numbers to be higher again on Thursday.
Asked whether the social consequences of lockdown might ever prove “too great”, the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, suggested a change in approach might be necessary in the future.
“I think at some stage, if the individuals that we need don’t hear Dr Chant’s message and don’t respond, then at some point we’re going to move to a stage where we’re going to have to accept that the virus has a life which will continue in the community,” Hazzard said. “But we’re trying damned hard at the moment to make sure that we can use every effort to suppress that virus, and right now is a critical time.”
‘Wake-up call to young people’
The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said 37 people had been admitted to hospital during the outbreak, with eight of those under the age of 35, including one person in their 30s in intensive care.
“Of the seven people in ICU, one is in their 30s, a bit of a wake-up call to young people.”
Hazzard was also asked about the “accidental” vaccination of 163 school students from St Joseph’s College in Sydney’s lower north shore.
“You know what? The school intended it well. There was a mistake and so what? It’s happened. Out of a million vaccinations. Move on,” he said.
Chant had earlier apologised for the mix-up which resulted in students receiving the Pfizer vaccine while still technically ineligible.
“That was a misunderstanding, a miscommunication, a misstep. Sydney local health direct have apologised for that.”
Federal government rejects NSW plea for jobkeeper to return
Berejilkian also used her latest press conference to make the case for NSW to receive more income support from the federal government.
“I can confirm treasurer [Dominic] Perrottet has been in contact with his federal counterpart in relation to supporting individuals and what that means during this time,” she said.
But Frydenberg immediately torpoedoed the request.
“We’re not bringing back jobkeeper,” he said. “That was an emergency support payment that we introduced at the height of the pandemic.”
Ten Queensland hospital workers in isolation
Ten hospital staff on the Sunshine Coast were placed in isolation after treating a Covid-positive patient who went into anaphylactic shock.
The healthcare workers, who did not have time to put on personal protective equipment, are all now in isolation.
The patient is believed to have had an adverse reaction to a contrast agent, which was injected prior to a planned MRI scan. It is understood he was being taken from the Covid ward to a separate area of the hospital for the scan when he went into shock.
Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service acting chief executive Andrew McDonald told the Sunshine Coast Daily staff “put their lives at risk” to provide life-saving treatment.
The patient is now in a stable condition. Each of the 10 staff was ordered into a 14-day quarantine.
Queensland earlier recorded one new locally acquired case – a close contact of a previously reported case that was detected in home quarantine.
The premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said it was “really good news” and that “Queenslanders should be extremely happy”.
Victorian restrictions eased
In Victoria, the state government moved to ease some restrictions , including lifting the mask mandate in schools and private workplaces from Friday.
Masks will still need to be worn at “indoor, public-facing settings”, but will not be necessary at workplaces that don’t interact with the public.
Density limits in Melbourne were also lifted, allowing one person per two square metres, matching the density restrictions in regional Victoria.
Venues affected by that change include hospitality, gyms and physical recreation venues, community facilities, creative studios and places of worship.
Stadiums will also be able to fill up to 75% capacity, with a cap of 40,000 people.
But the Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, said the limit on the number of visitors at home would remain at 15 people.
The newly eased restrictions will remain for another 14 days, before the government will review them again. Victoria has now gone a week without recording any new locally acquired cases.
– with Amy Remeikis and Ben Smee