First to some good news for Canberrans – and Ken Behrens – on Tuesday morning: It looks like leaders are ready to confirm lockdown rules will ease.
But ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has warned that the path out of lockdown will be slow or Canberra will be “where Sydney finds itself now”.
Greater Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26, more than 11 weeks ago.
Intensive care nurses and doctors are feeling the strain of the growing NSW outbreak, particularly in 12 Sydney hotspots.
Picnics are back on the table for vaccinated people outside those areas of concern and the state is planning to ease restrictions further next month.
Analysis of the NSW Roadmap to Freedom, by a group of high-profile scientists, could give leaders pause as they consider their next step. It suggests relaxing more restrictions in November could cause “code black” for the state’s ICU system – meaning patients will die because wards will be under too much pressure.
More on that below.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, there have been more coronavirus cases linked to a school that allegedly invited primary students back to campus despite lockdown rules.
Here’s the latest.
A Melbourne school at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak will be questioned amid reports it was operating at full capacity despite tough lockdown restrictions.
Authorities are investigating the outbreak at Fitzroy Community School in Fitzroy North.
On Monday night, the Department of Health said 29 students and staff have contracted the virus, while there were 82 close contacts associated with the outbreak.
There are about 60 students enrolled at the school, which describes itself as an “independent, alternative primary school”.
Only children of permitted workers and those who are vulnerable are allowed to attend classrooms in Melbourne, but the school has reportedly been inviting all parents to send in their children.
The school has been closed for deep cleaning. It is believed it will not reopen until all staff complete their 14-day quarantine.
An increasing number of cases had also been linked to the construction industry, which is subject to a vaccination blitz and compliance crackdown from Monday.
Public transport is another industry of concern this week. Buses will continue to replace most country train services on Tuesday as hundreds of front-line V/Line workers isolate following six cases among staff.
A V/Line worker who lives in Torquay is among the state’s new regional cases, but there are no plans to reinstate lockdown rules outside of Melbourne.
A prisoner at the Melbourne Remand Centre has also tested positive.
- Click here for the Victorian exposure sites
Meanwhile, in vaccination news, Crown Casino is planning a ‘no jab, no entry’ policy.
“As such a significant hospitality employer in Australia with resorts that hosted over 30 million visits a year pre-COVID, we need to take measures to help keep people safe. That starts with our employees but also extends to our guests and the broader community,” Crown Resorts and Crown Melbourne chief executive Steve McCann said.
“This is about protecting every Australian. We want to create a safe environment for people to come to work, and also for our guests to come to enjoy themselves.”
Residents in NSW are bracing for the peak in COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalisations as a regional town goes back into lockdown while the rest of the state enjoys a few extra freedoms.
NSW reported 1257 local COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, as well as seven deaths. Greater Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26, more than 11 weeks ago.
The seven deaths in the 24-hour period were a woman in her 60s, three people in their 80s and three people in their 90s.
There are 1189 COVID-19 patients in NSW hospitals, with 222 in intensive care beds and 94 on ventilators.
Despite the growing caseload, restrictions have slightly eased – but only for people who are fully vaccinated. They can now gather in small groups for outdoor picnics.
Next month, NSW expects to open pubs and cafes for people who are vaccinated.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian denied the unvaccinated would have their freedoms restored at 80 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage in NSW, saying policy was still being finalised.
But modelling released by a scientific lobby group suggests that relaxing rules then will have dire consequences for intensive care units.
“If relaxing of restrictions occurs around October 18, when the 70 per cent target is met, we recommend that no further relaxation occurs at the 80 per cent target in November, to avoid code black conditions,” OzSage scientists write in their first modelling report.
“If further relaxation of restrictions occurs in November, NSW could face a prolonged period of code black conditions, with a consequent rise in death rate because standard ICU care cannot be provided.
“We did not model the increased deaths due to code black, so the scenarios are conservative/best case. Unfortunately, in all scenarios, substantial community transmission at the time of lifting restrictions will result in a surge in cases.”
The group modelled the requirements for ICU and hospital care for NSW under different vaccination scenarios to assist with planning for surge capacity.
- Click here to read the full modelling
Meanwhile, the NSW-Queensland border bubble is operating again, allowing people in northern NSW who aren’t locked down to travel north for essential work, school or medical reasons.
Elsewhere in regional NSW, there are nearly 1000 cases of COVID-19 in the state’s west with authorities particularly concerned about the town of Walgett.
- Click here for regional NSW exposure sites
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr will reveal Canberra’s path out of lockdown after warning the easing of restrictions will be slow and steady.
The number of people in the community while infectious remains a concern, with 10 of Monday’s 13 cases not in quarantine the whole time.
“If we’ve got too many people even unknowingly infectious in the community and too much activity, then you’re on a pathway to where Sydney finds itself now,” he said.
The next steps to ease restrictions will be unveiled during Mr Barr’s daily update on Tuesday.
Canberra’s lockdown, already extended twice, is scheduled to run until midnight on Friday.
Mr Barr has repeatedly warned people to expect a difficult spring and not to expect drastic changes when lockdown does end.
He has also put businesses on notice, saying those found to repeatedly flout public health orders could be shut down.
The problem mostly centred around mask-wearing in hospitality venues.
Meanwhile, the ACT will reach a 50 per cent vaccination rate for over-12s this week.
It comes as children aged between 12 and 15 can be booked in for a Pfizer jab at government clinics from next Monday.