News Coronavirus As virus cases rise outside locked zones, here’s why Melbourne and Sydney may be hit differently

As virus cases rise outside locked zones, here’s why Melbourne and Sydney may be hit differently

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As any proud Victorian or New South Welshman would tell you, the differences between Sydney and Melbourne are often quite stark.

However, the speed at which the coronavirus can spread does not depend on the degree of one’s penchant for black clothing, or whether they prefer AFL or NRL.

But there are three key differences that will have a big effect.

Pub culture

Unlike Melbourne, which is the home of small laneway bars and cosy pubs, Sydney’s bar scene is much more super-sized.

Popular venues like the Coogee Pavilion – a double-storey mega pub overlooking Coogee beach – can host a whopping 600 people at once.

Others like the Greenwood Hotel in North Sydney can hold 1000.

For a virus that can easily infect people through air droplets, a tightly packed pub is an ideal environment in which to spread.

And there are concerns it is already happening.

Last week, the Golden Sheaf pub at Double Bay came under fire after a photo of a long queue of patrons standing virtually shoulder to shoulder circulated widely online.

nsw social distancing covid
A photo taken outside the Golden Sheaf in Sydney on Wednesday has sparked fears of complacency. Photo: Reddit

On Monday, NSW health authorities confirmed nine coronavirus cases had been linked to a cluster at The Crossroads Hotel in Casula.

That number rose to 30 by Tuesday night. Of those people, 14 had attended the pub themselves.

Thousands of people who attended the hotel between July 3 and 10 have been told to self-isolate, and the Queensland government has banned residents from Sydney’s impacted suburbs.

South Australia has also cancelled its planned July 20 border reopening with NSW.

But Liverpool and Campbelltown are not being locked down – yet.

The source of the outbreak is not yet known but NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has pointed blame at Victorians.

Adding to the theory travellers had unknowingly spread the virus in NSW, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said on Wednesday morning there was “no question” it had come from Victoria.

“It’s not a virus which has been transmitted through the community because something has occurred here,” Mr Barilaro told the Seven Network.

“There is no question the virus has come from Victoria. We don’t know where that’s seeded, we have been doing the contact tracing.”

Experts aren’t surprised COVID-19 is thriving in pub environments.

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an infectious diseases expert at the University of New South Wales and member of the WHO’s COVID-19 response team, said it was particularly “problematic when you’ve got big venues”.

The bars and club culture in Sydney is very different, and that has facilitated a potential spread, absolutely,’’ she said.

Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales, agreed that the large pubs in Sydney were a concern.

“Any indoor environment where a lot of people gather in close proximity, where you may not have good ventilation, is a potential risk for outbreak – as we’ve seen with The Crossroads Hotel and several outbreaks linked to entertainment venues,” Professor MacIntyre told The New Daily. 

But she added it wasn’t just super pubs that posed a risk.

“Any indoor setting where you have a lot of people sitting or standing together is a risk, especially when they’re talking or shouting,” she said.

“It could be singing as well, like at a karaoke bar or at a church.”

Public transport

More than a third of Sydneysiders catch public transport to work, compared to just 15.4 per cent of Melburnians, according to the latest Census data in 2016.

But no matter the city, train carriages and buses can often have thousands of people jumping on board and off in a single day.

And the virus doesn’t necessarily leave when passengers do.

“It hovers around, even after the infected person has left,” Professor MacIntyre said.

“Public transport is definitely a risk.”

All of Melbourne’s trains, trams and buses are getting extra cleaning during the pandemic. Photo: AAP

To help people socially distance, the NSW government has introduced more services so commuters don’t need to squeeze on board together.

It has also rolled out a colour-coded function on transport apps and at train stations that shows how full a bus, ferry or light rail service is at any one time.

But Professor McLaws said asking people to socially distance on public transport wouldn’t cut it.

Instead, she said all Sydney commuters should wear a face mask or covering to limit the virus’s spread.


When it comes to the cooler months, Sydney has a much better deal.

Average winter temperatures range from about eight to 16 degrees in Sydney, while in Melbourne – a city prone to strong cold fronts – they can often drop to 6.5.

Given people tend to spend more time huddled together inside during cold weather, is there a chance Melburnians are more vulnerable to catching the coronavirus?

Well, not really.

“It’s certainly safer outside than inside,” Professor McLaws said.

People enjoying the Sydney weather at Bondi Beach. Photo: Getty

But she added the coronavirus could spread easily, no matter how hot or cold it was outside.

“Whether a person in a room is moving around speaking loudly, singing, shouting and pushing air particles out, that’s more important than the temperature,” she said.

Professor MacIntyre agreed that temperature was only a “minor factor”.

“The ability of the virus to spread trumps everything,” she said.

“Just look at areas around the world like in Arizona, where temperatures hit nearly 50 degrees.

“They’re having pretty much the worst epidemic in the United States.”

Australian toll

The national death toll has reached 110, and cases are over 10,000.

Victoria remains the worst-hit, with 270 new cases announced there on Tuesday including 21 people on ventilation in intensive care.

The New Daily regularly updates global and Australian coronavirus figures.

Click here to check the latest coronavirus numbers.