By PETER HACKNEY
New restrictions have been brought in for Greater Sydney – including the Sydney metropolitan area, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour – after NSW recorded 44 new cases of Covid-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm yesterday.
Of the 44 new cases, 29 were active in the community while infectious. The source of nine infections is currently unknown, with contact tracers scrambling to determine the lines of transmission.
The number of close contacts doubled overnight from around 7,000 to 14,000, while the number of people hospitalised in NSW with Covid-19 now stands at 43. Ten of those are currently in intensive care, with four on ventilators.
In this morning’s daily Covid-19 media briefing, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said one of the patients in intensive care was only in their 20s, while another was in their 30s.
‘We have no option’
Announcing the new restrictions, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wanted Sydney residents to be “shocked” by the rising number of infections, adding that no one should leave their home “unless they absolutely have to”.
“We do not have the option of living with this. We have to quash the community transmission,” she said.
“Because if we don’t, we will see thousands and thousands of people in hospital, and lots of people – thousands of people – potentially, dying.”
The new restrictions
As of 5pm today, the bid to “quash” new infections will see a raft of extra restrictions come in. They are:
- Only two people can meet to exercise outdoors (this cap excludes people who live in the same household);
- People can only exercise within their local government area or within 10 kilometres of where they live;
- People from different households must not carpool for any reason;
- Browsing in shops is now prohibited;
- Only one person per household per day can leave home for essential shopping.
From Sunday, the number of mourners at funerals will be capped at ten, a decision the premier described as “heartbreaking”.
The continuing restrictions
The extra restrictions are in addition to those which were already in place. Residents are allowed to leave their homes for just four reasons. They are:
- To shop for food or other essential goods and services;
- For medical care (including Covid-19 testing and vaccinations) or compassionate needs (only one visitor can fulfil carers’ responsibilities or visit for compassionate reasons);
- To exercise;
- For essential work or education which cannot be done from home.
Lockdown extension flagged
Ms Berejiklian said that until NSW can get close to zero active cases in the community, the lockdown cannot end – raising the spectre of a prolonged lockdown period extending beyond the previously announced end date of Friday, 16 July.
“Unless there is a dramatic turnaround in the numbers, I can’t see how we would be in a position to ease restrictions,” the premier said.
“NSW is facing the biggest challenge we have faced since the pandemic started. And I don’t say that lightly.”
AMA backs clampdown
The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has come out in support of the tougher restrictions in NSW, due to the level of non-compliance with stay-at-home orders.
“There was a sense in the community that things weren’t that bad, which has led to people not following the rules. Clamping down is the right move,” AMA president Omar Khorshid told Sky News Australia.
“It’s clear the lockdown started a little bit too late and the restrictions were not enough,” he said.
‘Fewer fines and more compassion’
However, in a media release issued this morning, the Redfern Legal Centre called for fewer fines and more compassion, especially in south-western Sydney, as the Covid-19 outbreak grows.
Samantha Lee, solicitor in the police accountability practice at Redfern Legal Centre said: “Targeting communities in south-western Sydney with more police and more fines seems disproportionate and unjust.
“All communities need equal access to health information, resources and support to get through this difficult time. Increasing penalties to lower economic areas is not the answer.”
Ms Lee said confusing, constantly shifting public health orders meant people would inevitably fall foul of the law.
“In just over 15 months the NSW public health orders for gathering have changed over thirty times,” she said.
“The current laws tell people they can’t leave their house without a reasonable excuse, but allow people to go buy power tools at Bunnings. People are confused, exhausted and just trying to get by.”
Recent figures obtained by Redfern Legal Centre under freedom of information laws revealed just 22 per cent of the 1,854 public health infringement fines issued since the pandemic began have been paid in full.
Ms Lee said many people, including those who had lost their jobs during the pandemic or who were on Centrelink benefits, were unable to pay the $1000 fines, which are not means-tested.
The Redfern Legal Centre offers free legal advice about appeal and payment options for people in NSW who have been issued with a Covid-19 fine.
Chant pleads for tests
Dr Chant, meanwhile, repeated calls for Sydneysiders to get tested if they have any possible Covid-19 symptoms, no matter how mild.
While south-western Sydney is currently the greatest area of concern, she said there was growing concern about a rise in cases in Sydney’s south-east, calling on residents on residents of Hurstville, Kareela, Maroubra, Sutherland and Sylvania to come forward for testing.
For the location of your nearest Covid-19 testing clinic, visit www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/how-to-protect-yourself-and-others/clinics.
Peter Hackney is the editor-in-chief of the Sydney Sentinel.