NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has again shrugged off the idea of introducing even tougher measures to curb her state’s growing virus crisis.
On Tuesday, NSW had its worst day yet with a record 356 local COVID cases and a further four deaths confirmed.
The death toll from the current outbreak is now 32. There are 60 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, with 28 ventilated.
Tuesday’s fatalities included the death of a man in his 80s linked to the outbreak at Liverpool Hospital, as well as a woman in her 80s and a man in his 70s. A man in his 80s who caught the virus overseas also died.
But despite the steady rise in the number of local COVID infections, Ms Berejiklian insisted she won’t introduce harsher lockdown measures unless they have a proven impact on virus transmission.
She again rejected the idea of a so-called ‘ring of steel’ around Canterbury-Bankstown or introducing a curfew.
“Delta is different, we need to treat it differently, and NSW doesn’t have any intention of putting in strategies that aren’t going to work,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“If we thought they’d have a significant or even marginal impact, of course we’d do those things, but there is no evidence to suggest that.”
Instead, she said the Delta strain was just more difficult to contain and put the focus on residents who ignored existing rules.
“We have to accept that part of the challenge we have in NSW is because of lack of compliance and part of the challenge is because Delta is very different to anything we have seen before,” she said.
“Policy positions that may have worked in the past aren’t going to have effect with Delta, it’s something we need to accept.”
Ms Berejiklian said the rules did not need to change – people just needed to follow them.
“There are still pockets of people who think this isn’t a serious illness … who don’t believe the need to follow health orders and that impacts everybody but moreover than anything else,” she said.
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Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said police had stopped more than 400 vehicles in northern NSW in the previous 24 hours, with 17 fines issued and several vehicles turned around.
“NSW Police won’t back down in their endeavour to ensure people comply with the public health orders across the state,” he said.
“What we are seeing is people making conscious decisions to go outside, to contravene the public health orders at a risk to themselves and the community and the whole strategy around getting NSW back to normal as quickly as possible.”
Of Tuesday’s 356 new infections, at least 97 were circulating in the community while infectious.
It comes after a 50-year-old Sydney man sparked a seven-day lockdown in the northern rivers region after he flouted the rules by travelling to Byron Bay.
Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant confirmed on Tuesday that two relatives who travelled with him have also contracted the virus.
Byron Bay Mayor Michael Lyon said the trio had all refused to wear masks or use QR code check-ins.
“I’ve heard he didn’t believe in the virus. From what I understand, he is not cooperating,” Mr Lyon said.
With Sydney and surrounds under stay-at-home orders until at least August 28 and Hunter, Byron Bay, Armidale and Tamworth all in snap lockdowns, more than 80 per cent of the NSW population is locked down.
Armidale and Tamworth have had no new case but there were additional infections in the Hunter on Tuesday. A case unlinked to the travelling Sydney man was also found in Byron Bay.
Ms Berejiklian said she would be glad to consider further measures to limit movement and interaction, but few were proven to reduce virus transmission.
Given the virulence of the Delta variant and its prevalence among essential workers who had to leave home, she said they should instead focus on vaccinations.
Ms Berejiklian said her government’s aspiration remained “COVID zero”, but also that NSW would consider partially easing restrictions once it reaches six million vaccinations.
About 4.5 million jabs have been administered so far.
Qld Premier defends virus decisions
Queenslanders received more positive news on Tuesday, with three new local virus cases all linked to an existing cluster and in quarantine while infectious.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk angrily denied using secretive polling to ensure she was making pandemic decisions that would be popular with voters.
She cited backlash as evidence she had stuck to health advice and did not use research to make decisions that would please Queenslanders.
“Everyone was yelling at me to open the borders,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“So don’t talk to me about popularity. Everybody was attacking me when I stood my ground here, and backed the chief health officer’s advice to me.
“It was seen as not being popular out there in the public and it kept Queenslanders safe.”
SA relaxes virus rules
South Australia will ease more virus restrictions from Thursday, despite continued concerns about outbreaks in NSW and Victoria.
The state had no new virus cases on Tuesday, with seven infections still considered active. Three are in hospital, including a man in his 20s who is in intensive care in a stable condition.
Christmas with the family
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday said he wanted all Australians around the dinner table with their families on Christmas Day.
“We have one of the lowest death rates in the world from COVID and we want to be able to continue to achieve that as best as we possibly can as we continue through this suppression phase,” Mr Morrison said.
“That’s why there aren’t any shortcuts to lockdowns.”