Greater Sydney is bracing for tougher restrictions this weekend after NSW’s cabinet held a crisis meeting on Friday evening to consider invoking harsher lockdown settings.
With the number of new local cases out in the community still stubbornly high, Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday foreshadowed ramping up measures to stop people moving around.
Meanwhile the outbreak that triggered Victoria’s fifth lockdown appears to be spreading, with fresh cases expected to be announced on Saturday including infections at two schools and the holiday destination of Phillip Island.
The outcome of the NSW crisis meeting will be announced on Saturday but is expected to include tougher stay-at-home rules for southwest Sydney — the current epicentre of infections — and a tighter definition of what is considered non-essential retail.
Currently retail such as luxury handbag stores, florists and clothing shops continue to trade which Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Omar Khorshid slammed as “ridiculous”.
Dr Khorshid called for a ‘Victorian-style’ lockdown in New South Wales, warning Sydney would suffer lockdown “indefinitely” if the government didn’t go harder.
“If we do not see a drop in numbers … Sydneysiders are looking at extreme restrictions for the foreseeable future. That is until everybody’s vaccinated,” Dr Khorshid said.
The AMA has urged the NSW government to implement a four-stage Victorian-style lockdown, where only essential stores are open and people can exercise with just one other person.
“We do not have enough vaccines to vaccinate the whole of the city, so our only option is to get on top of this virus right now,” Dr Khorshid said.
After 97 new infections were recorded on Friday, Ms Berejiklian said she expected the state’s cases to continue to climb and she would “not hesitate to go harder” to curb the outbreak.
“If we need to go harder, of course we will. But we need to make sure that any measures that are put in place are going to hit the mark and are going to do the job we need them to do,” she said.
AMA vice-president Chris Moy told The New Daily the slow response to growing cases was “bewildering”.
“Not only is there a risk the cases don’t come down quickly, there is a risk they get worse, and there is some chance of that looking at the spread in the community,” Dr Moy said.
People who have caught the Delta strain become infectious faster, with new clusters emerging between two and three days after exposure. This makes it exceptionally difficult for contact tracers to get on top of.
As the virus has gotten away from the contact-tracing team, the best tool the government has is limiting more movement, Dr Moy said.
Victoria is entering its second day of lockdown after recording 10 new cases on Friday, more than half of whom were strangers to the person who gave it to them.
New cases on Saturday are expected to include two staff at the inner-Melbourne school Trinity Grammar, Kew, and four staff at Bacchus Marsh Grammar, though this is yet to be confirmed by the health department.
Deakin University tweeted on Friday afternoon about a positive test in a staff member from its Waurn Ponds campus, though the government is yet to confirm it.
The state is dealing with 134 exposure sites including the MCG and public transport, with 1500 primary close contacts and 5000 secondary contacts self-isolating.
‘Hospitals running short’: ICU staff fear surge in cases
Intensive care unit (ICU) nurses in Sydney are terrified of a surge in cases, with one telling TND that reduced staff numbers was his biggest concern.
“The hospitals are running short,” the ICU nurse said. “Because of COVID, people are having to quarantine and isolate because they have visited hot spots.
“A lot of staff are being deployed to other areas, like airports, hotels, and vaccination centres.”
Explaining that staffing issues was the “biggest stress” right now, the nurse said staff were being shifted around to make sure patients needing critical care received it, but other wards went short.
“We just rob Peter to pay Paul. To make sure the COVID ICU is safely staffed may mean somewhere else works short,” he said.
“We’ve got contingency plans, but it is a worry. It’s stressful wondering how many more cases we’re going to get.”
The nurse said he had seen some COVID patients who had deteriorated within hours.
“We’ve seen younger people getting really sick and very old people very sick. It can affect everyone,” he said.
“Patients can be with us for days and suddenly deteriorate. They can be with us for hours and deteriorate. It’s unpredictable.”
More social distancing needed
Researchers from the University of Sydney have estimated that only 40 per cent of Sydneysiders have been properly adhering to social distancing.
For Sydney to see a sufficient drop in COVID-19 case numbers after one month, social distancing must be observed by over 80 per cent of people, the new modelling showed.
It also found that case numbers would begin to reduce after two months if social distancing compliance was at 70 per cent.
Director of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Complex Systems, Professor Mikhail Prokopenko, said the modelling showed the level of social distancing currently attained in Sydney is inadequate for outbreak control.
To get to 80 per cent compliance many services currently deemed essential would need to be included under the lockdown restrictions, Professor Prokopenko said.
“Compliance with 80 per cent social distancing would mean that four out of five people must drastically reduce their contact with others to just 10 per cent of what they normally do,” he said.
“For example, this would mean reducing your shopping frequency or duration to just 1 out of 10 typical trips or hours. So, if someone spent 10 hours a week doing the shopping, now it needs to reduce to just one hour of shopping a week.”