News ‘Crunch time’ for millions as 110 Sydney suburbs put on virus alert

‘Crunch time’ for millions as 110 Sydney suburbs put on virus alert

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Residents of three Sydney local government areas have been singled out by the NSW Premier, as health authorities warn it is “crunch time” to get COVID under control in the city.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Wednesday that the state’s coronavirus restrictions would be extended to avoid “moving in and out of lockdown”.

The lockdown of greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Wollongong, Central Coast and Shellharbour that was due to end on Friday will now last until at least July 16.

Ms Berejiklian said she expected case numbers to keep increasing in coming days, with even stricter measures under consideration.

NSW confirmed 27 fresh local cases of COVID-19 in the community on Wednesday, with a further spike expected on Thursday.

It’s ‘crunch time’, chief health officer says

NSW’s latest outbreak began in Sydney’s eastern suburbs three weeks ago but suburbs in the city’s south-west have since emerged as areas of most concern.

The 110 suburbs in the Liverpool, Canterbury-Bankstown and Fairfield local government areas have been flagged as high-risk for transmission.

“Can I say to the communities in those areas, many have a similar background to me, please don’t mingle with family. I haven’t seen my parents since the lockdown started – it is hard,” Ms Berejiklian, who has Armenian heritage, said on Wednesday.

Of particular concern to authorities are the number of cases in people who are not in isolation during their infectious period.

Of Wednesday’s new cases, only 13 were already in isolation. Seven were active in the community, while the remainder were isolated for part of that time.

“Don’t mingle with family, don’t think it is OK to visit your cousins or have sleep overs. Please, in those three local government areas limit your movement,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“You might think you are doing the right thing by visiting a loved one … by babysitting other children or whatever, but the key message in the Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool local government areas is please do not leave the house.”

Sydney branch coordinator for the Islamic Women’s Association of Australia Sue Hamdoush told the ABC people living in those areas may be leaving the house for “essential reasons” as outlined by health authorities.

“The government has been very lenient in reasons to continue to leave the house,” Ms Hamdoush said.

“A lot of the people in these areas are carers for their families. They come from families where their parents don’t speak English, where they are more assigned to these tasks for their families.

“So whether it be babysitting, shopping for essentials or helping parents with their day-to-day tasks around the house… The people in these areas are still leaving the house for those reasons.”

She also indicated the rules were not always being communicated effectively – for example in languages other than English.

Ms Berejiklian said further measures might be introduced if stay-at-home orders were not followed.

“A next step could be limiting even further movement through the health orders,” she said.

“At the moment, obviously, we have broad rules as to why people are allowed to leave the house and allowed to exercise, but if we need to, Health may provide advice on further restriction of movement in those communities.

“I only foreshadow that to highlight how concerned Health is and how concerned we are about those three geographic locations and the way the virus is spreading.”

  • For an updated list of NSW exposure sites click here.

Chief health officer Kerry Chant urged Sydneysiders to “redouble” their efforts, revealing people had caught the virus from household contacts who were yet to be diagnosed.

“By the time we get to those household cases, the rest of the household is already infected,” Dr Chant said.

“This is really a crunch time for the community, where the destiny is in your hands.”

Ms Berejiklian echoed this advice, justifying the lockdown extension as NSW’s “best chance” to avoid yo-yoing in and out of restrictions.

“What we want to do is give us our best chance of making sure this is the only lockdown we have until the vast majority of our citizens are vaccinated,” she said. 

But the state government has been criticised for extending the lockdown beyond Sydney, despite no COVID cases in some parts of NSW.

Kiama MP Gareth Ward said there was no evidence to support the lockdown continuing in the Wollongong and Shellharbour areas.

“It makes no sense to limit individual liberty, damage business and cause hardship for families when there is no overriding and greater public health reason for doing so,” Mr Ward said.

Businesses ‘devastated’ by lockdown extension

Business groups have also lambasted the move, calling for further support measures as sectors remain closed to help combat the spread of the virus.

Pubs, restaurants, gyms, nightclubs, and other venues in the lockdown areas will now have to remain closed until at least 11.59pm on July 16.

Australian Hotels Association NSW CEO John Whelan said the sector needed more certainty and support.

“The lockdown extension is devastating news for more than 50,000 greater Sydney-based staff who are out of work for another week,” Mr Whelan said.

“Our staff have rent and bills to pay. Many are not eligible for government support and a third week with no work really hits hard.”

Ms Berejiklian said NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet had been in contact with his federal counterpart, Josh Frydenberg, over the issue.

But Mr Frydenberg said a NSW request for the Jobkeeper wages subsidy to be reinstated has been denied.

“We are not bringing back JobKeeper,” he said.

“That was an emergency support payment that we introduced at the height of the pandemic. We then extended it beyond the initial six months to 12 months.

“We brought in a tiered payment to take into account the number of hours worked and that JobSeeker payment played a very important part in our economic recovery particularly in keeping the formal connection between employers and employees.”

Last week, Mr Perrottet said small businesses that suffered during the lockdown would be eligible for grants of up to $10,000.

Ms Berejiklian has refused to say if that assistance will step up in light of the lockdown extension.

-with AAP