NSW is on high alert as Sydney’s outbreak of the highly-contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 continues to grow, with the premier saying a notable rise in cases could spark tougher restrictions.
NSW Health confirmed three new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total number of infections in the cluster to nine.
Two of those cases were recorded after the official reporting period and will therefore be included in Monday’s official numbers.
These are a woman and a man in their 50s from the Sutherland Shire. Both are close contacts of a previously reported case and have been in isolation.
There are already a series of restrictions regarding masks in place across Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying while authorities don’t want to extend restrictions, they will if they have to.
“At this stage, we didn’t want to make the decision to have compulsory mask wearing across all greater Sydney, but if the situation changes overnight, that is an option we will have to consider,” she said.
“The strongest message I want to send our community is we worked on the basis of trust, that we won’t impose any burdens on communities unless we absolutely have to. At this stage, given the number of cases and the risk, we feel [what] we are doing is appropriate.”
Ms Berejiklian said the next few days would be critical for NSW, saying any further restrictions “will depend on what cases, if any, emerge in the next few days”.
She urged people with even the slightest symptoms to get tested so authorities can track down any underlying chains of transmission.
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“We know everybody is tired. All of us are. We have to keep doing the right thing until we get the vaccine to majority of our population. This is what we have to live with,” the Premier said.
“What we’ve asked people to do today is as far as we will go, but I will say that if cases continue to emerge in the community we will need to consider going further, but I hope that isn’t the case. I hope in the next few days things settle down, and we don’t have to go further.”
A number of changes to mask restrictions kicked in at 4pm on Sunday, including the requirement for masks on public transport being extended to include Wollongong and Shellharbour.
Previously this restriction only applied to Greater Sydney and the Blue Mountains but was extended after a confirmed case spent time in Wollongong.
Masks are now also mandatory in indoor premises for certain local government areas, including Bayside, Canada Bay, Sydney, Randwick, Inner West, Waverley and Woollahra.
These indoor venues include retail and business premises that provides goods and services to the public, gaming rooms, entertainment facilities, places of worship, residential aged care facilities (but not for residents), and for front end staff at hospitality venues.
Penalties of $200 apply for defying mask restrictions.
Authorities racing to avoid ‘superspreader event’
The new mask mandates were brought in to help avoid a “superspreader event” that could see cases explode across Sydney and surrounding areas.
“As we heard in previous days, on a few occasions it has been a fleeting exchange [that has led to infection] we know this is extremely contagious and some people are spreading it more than others,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“And what we want to avoid at this stage is a superspreader event. With this current outbreak, we have not experienced a superspreader event. That is what we want to prevent.”
Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said at the moment everything appeared to be linked and can be explained, but stressed the importance of high testing rates.
She called on Sydneysiders to “stress our labs to the ultimate of their testing capacity”, saying “the quicker we can diagnose cases, the quicker we can get ahead of the transmission of this virus”.
The highly-contagious nature of the Delta variant has put authorities on high alert, with the virus appearing to pass through fleeting contact.
CCTV footage showed a man in his 50s caught the virus after merely passing through the “airspace” of the limousine driver, who is at the centre of the latest outbreak, in Myer at Westfield Bondi Junction.
“The gentleman in his 50s, was no more than seconds in the near vicinity of the limousine driver,” health minister Brad Hazzard said over the weekend.
“It would appear he was somewhere in the range of between 10 and, possibly, 50-60 centimetres away in a passing situation.
“Each of them had stood not far away from each other for a very short period of time and then it would appear that one of them possibly moved through the airspace that the other one had occupied.”
Mr Hazzard called on anyone who visited Westfield Bondi Junction during the times stated on NSW Health’s website to get tested even if they were not in one of the specific stores or sites mentioned.
“It is fair to say that this Delta virus would appear to be a near and present danger to anybody who is in the vicinity,” he said.
“Even if you happen to be passing the person who was infectious, for example, on an escalator, walking along a passageway, going through the airspace with a person who has breathed out, we could see you becoming positive.”