Many are surprised NSW has not already gone into lockdown despite a rising number of coronavirus cases in the state – but one expert believes there are still some steps that can be taken before this is necessary.
NSW announced new restrictions on Wednesday after 16 new cases were found. It also highlighted the highly infectious nature of the Delta strain, revealing a superspreader event that saw 10 guests infected at a birthday party in West Hoxton that 30 people attended.
Despite the concerning rise in cases and the seemingly fast spread of the virus, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Wednesday night there was “zero” truth to reports the state planned to announce a lockdown by Friday.
“No plan to lockdown contrary to media reports this evening,” Mr Hazzard told news.com.au on Wednesday night.
“Measures implemented this afternoon are proportionate and appropriate.
“Reports of a lockdown are greatly exaggerated.”
Infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon of Australian National University believes the decision not to lock down is appropriate.
“I think the restrictions are appropriate for the risk, based on the information we’ve had,” he said.
He said there appeared to be about 10 to 12 cases a day in NSW but the vast majority were already in isolation.
While there were four unlinked cases among those announced on Wednesday, Prof Collignon said it often took a day or two for authorities to investigate these and understand if they really were mystery cases.
“We’ll have to watch what happens with numbers and how many stay unlinked,” he said.
Prof Collignon said the restrictions announced, including the wearing of masks indoors and restrictions on the movement of people living in seven local government areas, would make a significant difference in suppressing ongoing transmission.
Prof Collignon said the restrictions already in place would stop many people in Sydney from leaving the city during school holidays.
“It’s not as if what they have put in place won’t have a severe impact economically and socially,” he said.
“But I think at the moment it is a reasonable thing to impose.”
He said authorities should be able to control cases through restrictions like masks and the four metre rule, as long as there was a cooperative public.
While other states have chosen to lockdown to control the spread of the virus, Prof Collignon said there were actually other restrictions that NSW could put in place before it decided to pull the lever on a lockdown.
“People tend to think it is all or nothing but there is a graduation of restrictions,” he said.
He said the aim was to reduce the R0 number, which is the average number of people infected by one individual, to below one.
“You don’t have to have everybody locked in their house to achieve that,” he said.
“There are a variety of things that all contribute to getting the number down without locking an entire city or state into their homes.”
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Prof Collignon said household gatherings could be reduced further to just two or three people instead of five people, and higher risk venues such as restaurants, bars, gyms and churches could be closed. People could also be encouraged to work from home more.
He said isolating a geographical area, like authorities did with the northern beaches cluster, would be difficult this time as the cases were spread around the city.
He also believes it would also be unreasonable for a lockdown to be introduced in regional NSW as there are no cases in those areas.
“If we were having hundreds of cases in Sydney then in my view we should have a lockdown or really severe restrictions, but I’m still optimistic that won’t eventuate,” he said.
“Melbourne was really in trouble when there were about 30 cases a day.
“If there was an increasing number of cases that were not already in isolation then that would be a concern and I think we would have to put up the level of restrictions but that doesn’t mean we have to go into lockdown.”
However, Prof Collignon believes residents may have to live with ongoing restrictions during winter while the virus is more active. This could include restrictions on crowds at football matches and requiring people to be seated while drinking at bars.
“My view is we need restrictions even in areas that don’t have outbreaks in winter,” he said.
“For the next few months, because it is winter and we are not vaccinated, we need to wear more restrictions for a while.
“And if you are over 70 and haven’t been vaccinated, I would definitely leave home to do that.”