Scott Morrison’s plans for a festive season break might be cancelled for the second year running, with Sydney’s COVID cluster and state borders slamming shut prompting calls for an emergency national cabinet meeting.
The outbreak on Sydney’s Northern Beaches has governments nationwide on high alert, with tensions running high so close to Christmas.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian has slapped new restrictions on the Greater Sydney region, as the cluster grew to 70.
Leaders in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory followed by closing their borders to that entire area, mandating two weeks quarantine for Sydney arrivals.
It’s the biggest COVID emergency since Victoria’s disastrous second wave, with the Christmas travel plans of millions of Sydneysiders suddenly scuppered or in jeopardy.
The federal medical advisory body, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, is again meeting daily to monitor the situation, while Qld Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the spiralling tension should be addressed at an emergency meeting of the national cabinet of state and leaders.
“If we start to see even more cases coming out of NSW in the next couple of days … I really think it is going to be at the critical situation that we need to convene as a national cabinet to talk about these issues because it is of national significance,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Sunday.
“We are getting great briefings from the chief health officers, but I don’t think we want to see what happened in Victoria happen in NSW.”
As premier after premier held nationally televised press conferences on Sunday, there was one political famous face as a notable exception.
Some scamps on Twitter managed to get #WheresScotty trending nationwide for a short time on Sunday, wondering why the Prime Minister hadn’t spoken.
Those questioners failed to note that, since the end of the national first wave of COVID in mid-2020, Mr Morrison has largely left state issues up to state governments, rarely calling his own dedicated press conferences to comment on decisions made by states.
He and other senior ministers had released written statements on the Victorian lockdown, sharing their annoyance that rules weren’t lifted quicker, but did not call dedicated press conferences to comment on the state rules.
But some did make note of the timing of this weekend – exactly a year on since The New Daily reported he had taken a family holiday to Hawaii as bushfires raged across Australia.
— The Betoota Advocate (@BetootaAdvocate) December 19, 2020
Some speculated Mr Morrison may have been on holiday.
However, the PM’s office told TND he was still on the job in Canberra, and that his family holiday was not scheduled until sometime in January.
“After the new year and into January, I’ll be taking a bit of time with my family, and the Deputy Prime Minister will step up at that time and we’ll release further details on that,” Mr Morrison said on Friday, adding he “will be here and not far away”.
“The Deputy Prime Minister will step up for a week over the January period … I’ll just be spending the time at home and hopefully get a bit of time down the south coast if events allow,” he said in a 2SM radio interview on Thursday.
However, the PM did make an appearance on Sunday, sharing a video shot at The Lodge on his Facebook and Instagram pages in the afternoon.
“The COVID-19 outbreak in the Northern Beaches is, of course, a serious issue,” Mr Morrison said in the video, shot at a desk at his Canberra residence.
“Over the course of this year, significant contact tracing and testing regimes have been built up to deal with situations just like this. I want to thank all those who have been working incredibly hard over the last couple of days to get on top of this outbreak in the Northern Beaches.”
The PM said the statistics from NSW was “encouraging in terms of so far not seeing any seeding of the virus in other parts of the city”.
“But that doesn’t mean we can be complacent about it. That’s why the Premier has put in place the controls in terms of wearing of masks and restricting movement, particularly over the next few days,” he said.
“For those who are subject to those, thank you for your co-operation and your patience.”
Mr Morrison said he was in constant contact with state premiers, and that the federal government would “provide assistance where we considered it is necessary”.
“Quarantine protection is very important and that’s our first priority,” he said.
“Everyone’s working together.
“We’re working the problem to get on top of it, to ensure that we can return to us as normal a COVID situation as we can as soon as possible.”
Ms Berejiklian flagged further restrictions may be enacted on Sydney or wider NSW in coming days, if case numbers continue to increase.
Ms Palaszczuk’s calls for an emergency national cabinet meeting have, so far, not had much response from her fellow leaders.