Federal Coalition ministers have warned NSW colleagues against ending Sydney’s lockdown before COVID cases fall significantly, predicting other states will keep borders shut – potentially until Christmas.
It comes as Gladys Berejiklian again shifted her language on plans to open up her state, saying NSW could change its virus settings once six million vaccinations have been administered – no matter the combination of first and second doses.
“At the moment now nobody from NSW can travel anywhere, anyway. So isn’t it better for our health and safety and wellbeing, to fight for our citizens to have those freedoms?” the Premier said on Monday, shrugging off concerns about long-term border closures.
“I remember other states closing borders to us when we had very low numbers of cases that weren’t even Delta. I think it’s pretty predictable what the other states will do.”
NSW had another 283 COVID cases on Monday, with a woman in her 90s dying in North Sydney. New alerts were raised for regional centres, with Tamworth put into a seven-day lockdown after a new case, and concerns about a case at Byron Bay.
In contrast, Victoria had 11 cases, and despite an ongoing lockdown in Melbourne, stay-home rules will be eased in the state’s regional areas after little further spread beyond the city.
Ms Berejiklian said NSW was still focused on getting COVID cases toward zero, but has been preparing the ground for easing restrictions at a high level of vaccination coverage. She has pointed to six million vaccinations as the magic number to start carefully easing some lockdown rules in Sydney.
As of Saturday, NSW had delivered 4.5 million vaccine doses. At the current peak rate of nearly 90,000 vaccinations a day, NSW could hit the six million mark within three weeks – in time for the scheduled end of the lockdown on August 28.
That would be the equivalent of fully vaccinating about 46 per cent of the state’s eligible adults. However, on Monday, Ms Berejiklian said she would base plans for lockdown easing on the raw number of vaccinations, not the percentage of first or second doses.
“It could very well be that we have 60 per cent of first doses and 40 per cent of second doses,” she said.
Earlier, two of Ms Berejiklian’s federal Coalition colleagues in Simon Birmingham and David Littleproud raised concerns about NSW reopening without a significant reduction in daily case numbers. The two ministers, from South Australia and Queensland respectively, warned other premiers might not open their borders.
“I think we can safely assume that other states will remain with closed borders to NSW for much of the rest of this year, whilst we do drive those vaccination rates up into the higher levels,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News.
“I’m confident we will hit targets this year. But quite understandably, other states and territories will want to make sure they protect themselves from the Delta outbreak and that’s important in terms of the openness of those economies and communities.”
When asked if that could derail Christmas plans, Senator Birmingham said he was hopeful vaccination rates would hit a level that would allow leaders “to reunite families and hopefully enjoy those Christmas holidays”.
Mr Littleproud predicted NSW’s approach could “isolate some parts of this country”.
“The practical reality is, if they [NSW] open at 50 per cent, I can see our mob in Queensland will say, ‘Thanks, you can stay where you are’,” he told Nine’s Today.
It’s the latest cautious public disagreement between the NSW and federal Coalition governments, coming after days of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and chief medical officer Paul Kelly calling for Sydney’s lockdown to be maintained or even tightened.
In recent days, other Labor premiers have raised alarm at Ms Berejiklian’s comments. Western Australia’s Mark McGowan warned her against “surrendering” to COVID, while Victoria’s Daniel Andrews is again calling for a “ring of steel” around Sydney.
On Monday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Ms Berejiklian’s comments were “honestly a matter for her” but expected any restriction easing “would be very minimalist”.
Responding to Mr Littleproud and Senator Birmingham’s concerns, Ms Berejiklian hinted her main concern was loosening the lockdown in her state, not interstate travel.
“I’m sure if you asked the majority of people in our state ‘would you look forward to more freedoms than we have now’, I think the answer would be yes,” she said.
Other premiers have criticised Ms Berejiklian’s six million jab threshold, saying such a mark doesn’t mesh with the Doherty Institute’s goalposts of 70 and 80 per cent vaccinations to ease restrictions.
However, Ms Berejiklian clarified that she wasn’t planning to move to phase B or C of the reopening roadmap with that number of COVID doses, but simply to ease some harsh lockdown restrictions.
“The NSW government is committed to respecting the national cabinet’s wishes in relation to the Doherty report. We’re not intending to overstep our mark beyond what that report allows all the states to do,” she said.
“Once we hit 50 to 60 per cent, lockdown plus easing some restrictions is very different to what the Doherty report says must happen at 70 per cent.”