Coronavirus restrictions in place across New South Wales will not lead to a “significant decline” in new COVID-19 cases, according to preliminary modelling by one of Australia’s leading medical research centres.
New modelling by the Burnet Institute, due to be published on Monday, shows NSW’s restrictions will not be enough to make a major dent in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases occurring in coming weeks.
“At the current level of reactions, the modelling, which is based on the impact of the restrictions in Victoria last year, indicates the cases will not decline significantly in the coming month,” Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole told The New Daily.
But a shift to similar restrictions as Victoria had in stage four last year, would lead to a plunge in cases, Professor Toole said.
“That was a limit on how far you could travel [5 kilometres] and the closing of non-essential retail,” he said.
“The modelling shows that with the current restrictions plus what stage four in Melbourne introduced, that would lead to near-zero cases within a month.”
On Friday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced additional restrictions for Greater Sydney, Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour, saying NSW was facing “the biggest challenge we have faced since the pandemic started”.
“It tells us that in the next few days … both the case numbers and, unfortunately, the number of people who may be exposed, or have been exposed, in the community is going to go up,” Ms Berejiklian said.
She flagged a further extension to lockdowns may likely be needed for Sydney to crush the outbreak after the number of close contacts doubled — from 7,000 to 14,000 — in 24 hours.
Professor Toole said NSW should brace itself for a surge in case numbers in the coming days.
“When you have 14,000 close contacts no contact tracing team in the world can keep up with that, no matter how good,” he said.
Why NSW can’t ‘live with the virus’
On Friday, Ms Berejiklian poured cold water on the suggestion that NSW could ‘live with the virus‘, telling reporters she would not risk seeing thousands of people hospitalised and a soaring death rate by opening up to the Delta variant.
University of New South Wales strategic health policy consultant Bill Bowtell said it’s not about living with the virus but “dying with the virus”.
“Delta is more infectious than any of the variants we’ve had before,” Adjunct Professor Bowtell said.
“A year and a half ago people said we could live with it, now half a million people are dead in the US and that was with a much more suppressible form of COVID than we are dealing with now.”
Calling for tougher restrictions, such as the closure of any business that is not essential, Adjunct Professor Bowtell said it would take “more weeks and more people becoming ill” before this outbreak gets under control.
Vaccine rollout ‘frustration’
On Friday, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said there was no change in the number of doses the company would deliver to Australia, contradicting reports the PM had secured a “game-changing” deal to triple the number of shots coming to the country.
The University of Sydney infectious diseases physician Philip Britton said there was community dissatisfaction with vaccine rollout.
“The mixed messaging between the Commonwealth and state governments, particularly around AstraZeneca and access to vaccines has contributed to that frustration,” Dr Britton said.
“It’s very important for the community to feel the future is in their hands with how they comply with restrictions and getting out and getting vaccinated.”
Dr Britton said health departments need to “realise the degree of frustration in the community and begin to communicate with people around that frustration.”
“Otherwise there’ll be a breakdown and we’ll see more and more community unwillingness to comply,” he warned.