News Coronavirus Health Minister’s COVID exposure as Sydney faces lockdown threat

Health Minister’s COVID exposure as Sydney faces lockdown threat

A line for coronavirus testing
Authorities across Australia are growing increasingly concerned about the Delta variant. Photo: AAP
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NSW residents woke on Thursday to more talk of a potential COVID lockdown as authorities try to contain the Bondi cluster.

But state Health Minister Brad Hazzard hosed down the concerns – even after he woke to a text message informing him he is one of thousands who must isolate.

Mr Hazzard revealed that the virus might have spread between people working at NSW Parliament.

He said authorities had identified him as a possible close contact, adding that transmission could have occurred while he was giving an “interview with a person who may be positive”.

“I was advised when I woke up at about 5.30am, there was a text message that came in … telling me that a case had been detected as a likely positive and that I was a possible close contact,” Mr Hazzard told ABC News Breakfast.

“It was to do with my workplace, obviously NSW Parliament.”

He did not name the person who has tested positive but said it was someone who worked at parliament and was not a journalist.

“It’s a message to everybody…we all have a serious issue at the moment with this Delta virus,” Mr Hazzard said.

Sydney’s list of close contact exposure sites grew again by Thursday morning. It now includes seven restaurants and cafes, as well as the Joh Bailey hairdressing salon at Double Bay.

Late on Wednesday, NSW Health urged anyone who dined at Tropicana Cafe in Darlinghurst last Friday or visited Ikaria Bondi on Sunday to get tested and isolate for two weeks regardless of their result.

NSW Parliament, on Macquarie Street in the CBD, is not yet listed as an exposure site.

“The location and details will be no doubt worked on by NSW Health this morning,” Mr Hazzard said.

He added that he was “quite confident” that the “majority” of people who work in the state’s parliament building “will be either no contact or casual contacts”.

The Bondi cluster grew by 16 cases on Wednesday, prompting Premier Gladys Berejiklian to enact tough virus measures for residents in greater Sydney, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour.

They included eight cases from a birthday party attended by about 30 people in West Hoxton, on Sydney’s outer south-western fringe, on Saturday. Chief health officer Kerry Chant has called the party a “super-spreader event”.

The government is considering whether it will need to introduce ‘stay at home’ orders, with seven Sydney local government areas already facing the toughest restrictions in NSW since the Northern Beaches outbreak in December 2020.

In a significant shift in her language late on Wednesday, Ms Berijiklien made it clear a lockdown was possible when she said the state was prepared to “go harder and tougher and further” if needed.

But on Thursday morning, Mr Hazzard was again confident that a shutdown could be avoided.

“I don’t believe that we will go into a lockdown,” he said.

“The health advice is that the new orders that came into play yesterday afternoon are proportionate to our risk.”

Did Sydneysiders think they were safe?

ABC commentator Dr Norman Swan told Radio National on Wednesday that people in NSW were more complacent about the virus than Victorians.

“Really quite significant social distancing has got to occur, and we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security,” Dr Swan said.

“NSW has not experienced a second wave like Victoria, so … NSW people are not as respectful of this virus to the same extent Victorians are.”

Dr Swan’s comments sparked a backlash on social media, with some pointing to NSW’s record of quashing outbreaks without hard lockdowns as proof that residents typically comply with public health measures.

Is NSW more complacent about COVID than Victoria?

We need solid data to find out whether NSW is more complacent than Victoria when it comes to COVID-19, said Dr Holly Seale, an infectious diseases social scientist at the University of NSW.

“The challenge when we make a comment about how people are complying across Sydney is, we only see a snapshot of it,” Dr Seale told The New Daily. 

“That’s been our danger during this pandemic. We do make assumptions of behaviours and of compliance with public health measures based on a small window of observations.”

However, Dr Seale conceded some COVID-safe measures had dropped before the current outbreak.

“That perception of risk had shifted in line with the fact there was very little community transmission up until a couple of weeks ago,” she said.

“People had reduced the vigilance of washing their hands and social distancing.”

Dr Seale said NSW’s current outbreak would be “enough of a nudge” to make people return to complying with public health measures.

‘People aren’t really social distancing’

One Sydney resident, who lives in Randwick and wished to remain anonymous, told TND “people aren’t really social distancing – and haven’t been for some time”.

She suggested NSW’s strong contact-tracing team was the main reason people felt complacent about the virus. However, that false sense of security was fading fast.

Testing numbers were rising, she said, pointing to a recent two-hour wait at a testing clinic in Bondi.

More than 44,600 tests were reported across NSW on Wednesday.

The queue at a drive-through testing clinic at Bondi this week.

It’s a swift change from NSW residents’ attitudes to testing last week, when numbers were only about 26,600 on Saturday.

Bethan Yeoman, who lives in Bondi, has also noticed the promising trend.

“My local testing clinic was always abandoned prior to the outbreak,” Ms Yeoman told TND.

“No one was getting casual tests, but now the Bondi drive-through has been packed and people have been waiting for hours.

“It’s interesting to see how much this has exploded. My Instagram is flooded with my friends going to get their tests.”

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