NSW residents are being urged to stay calm and follow the lockdown rules as the state fights to contain its escalating COVID outbreak.
“We can control this,” Deakin University’s chair in epidemiology Catherine Bennett said.
“If people believe it’s doable and know what it takes, they will make it happen. This will turn around. And it could turn around in weeks, not months.”
History shows we’ve done it before, she said.
- Related: ‘Better be quick’: Victoria closes its border to NSW and ACT residents from midnight on Sunday
Through social distancing, mass testing and mask wearing, Victoria managed to conquer its deadly second wave last year – and that was when daily case numbers were much higher than in NSW.
On July 11 last year, Victoria had 216 new coronavirus cases.
It was only after daily cases hit a peak of 723 on July 30 that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews introduced a statewide lockdown on August 2.
By that time, there were 5385 active coronavirus cases in Victoria.
The situation is different in NSW, which had 77 new locally acquired cases on Sunday, with only 32 in isolation for all of their infectious period. The brought the state’s total to 514.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian issued a grim prediction that daily infections would hit 100 as the state also posted its first COVID-19 death of 2021.
A 90-year-old south-west Sydney woman died on Saturday, only hours after being diagnosed as COVID-positive.
She was a close contact of a locally acquired case and was believed to be unvaccinated.
Meanwhile, Victoria has pulled the trigger on effectively closing its border to NSW and the ACT after days of urging its residents to hurry back home.
The entirety of NSW and the ACT became red zones under Victoria’s travel permit system from 11.59pm on Sunday, as the southern state’s school holidays ended.
Victorian residents who missed Sunday’s deadline will still be allowed to enter the state but must isolate at home for 14 days.
The Victorian-NSW “border bubble” arrangement remains intact for local residents, though they must continue to travel with proof of address and not enter any red zones.
The Delta difference
Of course, there is another major variable between Victoria’s second wave and NSW’s current outbreak.
The state is dealing with Delta, a highly transmissible variant of concern.
“Every new case can quickly become four or five in a Delta outbreak, because everyone gets infected in their households,” Professor Bennett said.
“It wasn’t as rapid as that in Melbourne last year.”
However, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist at UNSW and member of the World Health Organisation’s COVID response team, said one factor remained the same.
Both lockdowns were introduced far too late, she said.
“I could tell Victoria was entering a very dangerous phase as early as May 25,” she said, pointing to modelling that showed Victoria’s 14-day rolling average was then sitting at 115.
“It was a red flag … The case numbers didn’t start peaking until July and Victorians were waiting way too long to start actually wearing face masks.”
Although Mr Andrews was late to introduce a hard lockdown, she said, when he did, the messaging was clear.
“In NSW, they’ve left it too late and now they’re asking the community to co-operate, but they’re sending mixed messages,” Professor McLaws said.
“If retail is open and school holidays are on, people are going to go to the shopping mall to get a bit of a break. It’s not the fault of the community – they’re not outbreak managers.
“The NSW government gave them options. You don’t give people options when you’re dealing with Delta.”