Millions of Sydneysiders are in limbo, with authorities warning even another week of lockdown may not be enough to halt their burgeoning COVID outbreak.
Local coronavirus cases spiked to a new high on Friday, with 44 new infections confirmed.
It meant that – on the day the lockdown of greater Sydney and its surrounds was originally meant to lift – Premier Gladys Berejiklian instead tightened rules across the city and warned of higher case numbers ahead.
The lockdown, already extended until July 16, is also likely be further extended.
“[This is] the greatest threat we have faced in NSW since the pandemic started … [and] at the moment the numbers are not heading in the right direction,” she said on Friday.
“The rate of infection therefore is going up exponentially every day.
“Unless there’s a dramatic turnaround in the numbers, I can’t see how we’ll be in a position to ease restrictions by next Friday.”
Ms Berejiklian said a premature reopening of greater Sydney would quickly lead to thousands of coronavirus cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
“We do not have the option of living with this. We have to quash the community transmission,” she said.
“It is up to all of us to turn things around. Because at the moment the numbers are not heading in the right direction. But we do have the ability to do that.”
The number of close contacts isolating across NSW also doubled in 24 hours to Friday morning, with 14,000 people told to stay home after exposure as numerous large venues.
The latest include Ikea in Tempe, where an infected worker potentially exposed hordes of customers during an 11-hour shift. Other recent exposure sites across Sydney include an Aldi in Merrylands and more shops in Auburn, Parramatta and Burwood.
- See all of NSW’s latest exposure sites here
There will also be tighter virus restrictions in greater Sydney, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains and Wollongong. Ms Berejiklian urged people to stop using exemptions as loopholes to leave the house.
“We’re still getting questions … about how many people you can have into your home. The answer is zero,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“Do not go [out] to an indoor setting because you’re bored and it’s a rainy weekend. That is how the virus spreads.
“The message I’m delivering today is quite shocking for a lot of people but I need everybody to be shocked.”
From 5pm Friday, residents will be banned from exercising more than 10 kilometres from their home, and only in groups of two people or with their immediate household.
Funerals in affected areas will be capped at 10 people.
Browsing at shops is prohibited, and only one person per household may leave the home for shopping each day.
“We are now not only looking at areas where the transmission has occurred but trying to prevent any super-seeding events,” Ms Berejiklian said.
NSW Labor leader Chris Minns backed the decision to tighten restrictions, but called for more financial support for those struggling due to the lockdown.
“So many workers and businesses have made massive sacrifices to protect our health and save people’s lives,” he said.
“The NSW government now must do more to help businesses and workers save their livelihoods.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday said the restrictions were “tiring, exasperating and frustrating”, but the step to tighten them further was “necessary”, flagging the potential for more Commonwealth support.
“The Commonwealth government will continue to provide support necessary to give effect to those restrictions and to ensure that NSW economy and the people of Sydney in particular are supported through what is this very difficult time,” he said.
Of Friday’s cases, 27 were active in the community for at least part of the time they were infectious.
Ten COVID-19 patients in NSW are in intensive care, with four ventilated. Among them is one person aged in their 20s and another in their 30s.
Also on Friday, NSW Police stepped up patrols on the streets of south-west Sydney to ensure compliance with COVID-19 health orders.
Senior police insist the move isn’t about discrimination or racism, despite the concentration of multicultural communities in the target suburbs.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Mark Morrow said the south-western push mirrored similar efforts in Bondi when the latest outbreaks emerged, and on the northern beaches late in 2020.
“The operational decision is based on the public health orders and the fundamental response that police have to enforce those health orders,” he said.
“We want people to take the responsibility, share the responsibility. And what we know is that at this moment, it is a crucial time for the community, the police and health to work together.”
The police response will include additional officers as well as mounted police, the dog squad and PolAir surveillance.
Some 21 of Friday’s reported cases were in south-west Sydney. However, there are also emerging hotspots in Sydney’s south-east, with eight cases in that area.
Democracy in Colour head Neha Madhok said the police response was “thinly veiled racism” and targeted people of colour and working-class communities.