Thousands of Sydney residents have been forced into a fortnight quarantine after visiting one single bottle shop at the centre of a growing COVID cluster, but New South Wales is still planning to forge ahead with plans for crowds at this week’s cricket Test match.
Already faced with the chaotic choice between three options – running the match as usual, closing it off to fans or cancelling it entirely – NSW is now facing a fourth possibility.
The potential alternative outcome would involve Sydney actually hosting two games in a row after Queensland’s border rules threw another spanner in the works.
However, a compromise on hotel quarantine arrangements on Sunday appears to have headed off any prospect of the Gabba not hosting the fourth Test.
Growing bottle shop cluster
Other jurisdictions kept their borders firmly clamped shut in the face of the growing outbreaks in both Sydney and Melbourne, with each state government facing tough questions over their handling of the virus clusters.
NSW recorded eight locally acquired cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night, with an additional three cases in returned travellers in hotel quarantine. This brings the total number of COVID-19 cases in NSW to 4,769 since the beginning of the pandemic. pic.twitter.com/nfteXerljg
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) January 3, 2021
In Sydney, further concerns were raised after confirmation the growing cluster at Berala, in the city’s west, was genomically linked to the case of a transport driver who took international arrivals from the airport to hotel quarantine.
That cluster, now centring around a BWS bottle shop at Berala, has directly forced some 2000 shop customers and potentially thousands more household contacts into isolation.
NSW Health believes the transport driver infected a colleague, who in turn infected staff at the bottle shop.
A huge list of contact tracing alerts, covering a large period between December 20 and 31, has been issued.
State Health Minister Brad Hazzard called it a “major concern”.
“I can’t stress enough how concerned we are about the transmission potential,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said on Sunday.
Sunday also marked the first day of Greater Sydney’s mandatory mask rules.
Police began enforcing the mandate from early Monday.
NSW Police said $200 fines were a “last resort”, promising “common sense” and “discretion” in applying penalties.
In Victoria, the state government apologised for long lines at testing centres, where some facilities closed early or turned people away due to huge demand.
People at a small number of sites in Melbourne reported being told to go home on Sunday, after facilities were swamped.
Victoria’s COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar apologised for delays, explaining that some workers in test facilities had taken leave.
“We have seen a significant number of people rightly take some well-deserved leave,” he said.
“We stepped it up again yesterday and we will step it up again today, but it is not something that we can turn on at the flick of a switch.”
Victoria has now boosted its testing capacity by 40 per cent, the health department said, by extending operating hours and recalling staff.
Queensland, too, will boost its testing regime after that state’s government also required returning travellers from Victoria or NSW to isolate and get tested.
Queensland CHO Dr Jeanette Young said while the government had not placed restrictions on travel to the outbreak states, people should be “prepared” for that to change.
“We have not declared hotspots in Victoria or in other areas of NSW outside of Greater Sydney – so right now, people can move freely between states,” Dr Young said.
“But it’s really important the community understands that decisions may need to be made quickly to protect Queenslanders.”
But while Sydney residents are adjusting to their first mandatory mask period, and thousands of people are forced into two weeks isolation after exposure to the Berala cluster, the state government is resisting calls to cancel or further restrict this week’s Test match against India.
The Sydney Cricket Ground is allowed to host half its normal crowd capacity, more than 20,000 spectators, for the five-day match starting on Thursday.
— NSW Health (@NSWHealth) January 3, 2021
Deputy Premier John Barilaro – filling in for Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who is on leave – stressed the game would be held in a “safe” way.
But he flagged the possibility of further restrictions on crowds.
“Because of the Berala cluster, if you’re coming from that area, the broader Cumberland area, we encourage you to rethink about going to the Test,” Mr Barilaro said.
“There may be more said by [NSW] Health and the government in the next day or so”.
He emphasised Sydney venues had held football matches all year without incident, and had confidence this week’s Test would go ahead.
But Sydney may go from calls to cancel Thursday’s game altogether, to hosting two games in a row.
At the weekend, News Corp reported that Indian players were concerned about quarantine requirements in Queensland before the next Test match in Brisbane on January 15.
Players would have been confined to their rooms, and not allowed out other than for training and playing.
If India were to refuse to cop quarantine, Sydney may host that game too.
Queensland opposition spokesman for sport, former National Rugby League referee Tim Mander, slammed the visitors’ complaints.
“If the Indian cricket team wants to spit the dummy and disregard quarantine guidelines in Brisbane for the fourth Test, then they shouldn’t come,” he said.
“The same rules must apply for everyone.”
India was already facing a COVID headache, after five players were spotted at a Melbourne restaurant last week, in breach of biosecurity ‘bubble’ rules.
The Australian and Indian cricket boards are investigating.