NSW officials have remained adamant that there are not plans for Sydney to go into lockdown despite the surge in Covid-19 cases, prompting concerns from health authorities that the state isn’t doing enough to prevent the outbreak spreading.
The state confirmed 16 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of infections in the outbreak to 37.
Of those cases, 10 were recorded within the official reporting period, with seven already announced on Tuesday. There were also 13 cases confirmed after the official reporting period, meaning they will be included in today’s numbers.
A “superspreader” birthday party attended by 30 people in West Hoxton was linked to 10 of Wednesday’s infections.
The surge in cases prompted Premier Gladys Berejiklian to announce a raft of restrictions for Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Shellharbour and Wollongong, along with a ban on travelling outside of metropolitan Sydney for seven Sydney LGAs.
However, Ms Berejiklian stopped short of announcing a lockdown, with health minister Brad Hazzard telling news.com.au there was “zero” truth to reports the state is likely to announce a lockdown by Friday.
“No plan to lockdown contrary to media reports this evening,” Mr Hazzard said on Wednesday night.
“Measures implemented this afternoon are proportionate and appropriate. Reports of a lockdown are greatly exaggerated.”
Despite officials saying they are confident the current restrictions match the risk posed by the outbreak, many epidemiologists have expressed concerns that not enough is being done.
Epidemiologist and editor in chief of the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Nicholas Talley believes introducing tough restrictions early on is the best way to combat the highly-infectious Delta strain currently circulating in Sydney.
RELATED: Next restrictions NSW is facing
“I’m concerned the restrictions are not tough enough — this is the Delta variant, the worst possible threat, and going hard and early will provide the community the greatest safety,” he told the ABC.
Epidemiologist and advisor to the World Health Organisation Professor Mary-Louise McLaws said that the current restrictions should have happened sooner.
She predicted a “big spike” in today’s numbers and claimed Sydney will be “very lucky” if it does manage to avoid a lockdown.
“Normally with a Delta, you would see like they did in Melbourne – very fast rise in case numbers and then an incredibly long goodbye – a really long tail,” Prof McLaws told The Project.
“But we’ve seen something completely different in Sydney – a very slow increase in numbers … If we get away without a lockdown, then fantastic – I was wrong, fantastic. But I’m hoping that we don’t keep seeing high numbers and that we do quickly see a tail.”
Concern grows over mystery cases
So far there have been five mystery cases found in the community, with authorities scrambling to find the source of their infections.
Epidemiologist at the Burnett Institute, Professor Mike Toole, said contact tracers were now faced with the “critical” task of tracking down the source of those infections.
“If those five cases are still unlinked tomorrow, I think you would want to consider stricter restrictions,” he told ABC’s Patricia Karvelas.
He added: “I think the next 24 hours will be critical to avert further expansion of this outbreak.”
Professor Toole said one of the major restrictions that needs to be considered is stopping some people from going to bars and restaurants, with the possibility of also introducing five reasons to leave home like Victoria imposed.
“If there are, as I said, five cases of unknown, still unlinked plus a number more, cannot give the exact number, but anymore unknown cases, I think it would indicate that there is a transmission outside that core group of people that have been identified and we just don’t want that to happen,” he said.
On Wednesday, chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said the rise in mystery cases was a “cause of concern” for authorities, saying it was clear there were unrecognised chains of transmission within the community.
“Our major focus is in this south-eastern Sydney broad area including the CBD to make sure that we have picked up any unrecognised transmission,” she said.
“There has obviously been some strains of transmission that have had the ability to amplify and we need those high testing rates and everyone to follow public health advice.”
Gladys doesn’t want to ‘burden citizens’
When asked on Wednesday why a lockdown wasn’t being considered, Ms Berejiklian told reporters she didn’t want to burden citizens with more restrictions “unless we absolutely have to”.
In place of harsher restrictions, the premier instead urged all Sydney residents to “abandon non-essential activities” and not attend social gatherings unless absolutely necessary.
“We know basically where the super spreading events have been, we know where the virus is circulating, and we don’t want to take any further action than what we have now. This relies on all of us reining in our behaviour, all of us following the health orders that are coming into place from 4pm,” she said.
“I am not ruling out any further action, but I am also confident that if we adhere to the health orders today, we will have a good chance of getting on top of this outbreak.
“I am not going to rule out further action, I am not going to rule out what happens beyond a week, because we don’t know.”
During yesterday’s press conference, Mr Hazzard warned NSW was dealing with a “very real and present danger” and the threat of the Delta variant meant now was “no time for stupidity”.
“We have gone from that near and present danger to a very real and present danger not just in a shopping centre but right across Sydney. We need all take this seriously,” he said.
“We each have the future of our fellow NSW residents and Sydney residents in our hands.”