NSW should have an “aspiration” to reach zero cases but will have to learn to “live with Delta” as daily infections show no signs of abating and people continue to test positive while in the community.
The state’s premier Gladys Berejiklian said completely suppressing the virus was a “challenge for us” and that increasing vaccinations would be the ticket to freedom.
The nation’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has also indicated the struggling state needs a “circuit breaker”, that is, new ways of getting daily case numbers down.
On Friday night, an entire south-west Sydney apartment complex was locked down and the building secured after 14 people tested positive, with the likelihood that more families are infected.
Residents of the 10-storey building in Liverpool have been deemed close contacts and ordered to isolate for 14 days, with police and private security monitoring the multi-storey complex.
NSW Health is working to determine how many households are affected within the units at Liverpool and food, services and welfare checks will be provided.
“Testing of residents will be done in their apartments, as they cannot leave during their isolation period,” as spokesperson said in a statement.
“The NSW police force and private security are ensuring the safety of the building.
“Food and other services, including daily welfare checks, will be provided to residents safely during their 14-day quarantine period.
“Tailored support services will be provided to all isolated residents
NSW hit a record 291 new locally acquired COVID cases on Friday which Ms Berejiklian foreshadowed would rise further.
“We are likely to see this trend continue for the next few days so I just want everybody to prepare themselves for higher case numbers,” she said.
The death toll rose to 23 this outbreak, with the death of a female patient at Liverpool Hospital who acquired the virus from a health worker.
Ninety-six of Friday’s cases were infectious while in the community.
Ms Berejiklian all but conceded the state would not reach her earlier target of zero cases circulating in the community.
“It’s obviously a challenge for us to get down to that number, but that has to be our aspiration. We have to try and get down as low as we can,” she said.
“We know, given where the numbers are and the experience of Delta overseas, that we now have to live with Delta in one way or another – and that’s pretty obvious. But the higher the vaccination rate, the safer we all are and the more free we will be”.
Professor Kelly said there was no sign of the NSW outbreak heading towards zero, which remained the national approach.
“There is clearly a need for a circuit-breaker,” he told reporters.
He listed increasing the speed of people being diagnosed, better compliance with public health measures and higher vaccination rates as key to case numbers falling.
“NSW needs to stay the course and look for those new ways of increasing and improving that situation.”
West Australian Premier Mark McGowan expressed concerns NSW could be about to ditch the zero-case approach.
“We can’t have one state surrendering. That would be debilitating for the entire nation, dangerous for the health of the people in that state and it would mean that we would continue to have interstate borders for the long term,” he said.
“We don’t live with it, we don’t tolerate it, we don’t have it linger, we suppress it and we get rid of it.”
Lockdown restrictions for Greater Sydney and beyond are scheduled to lift on August 29 but the timeline is dependent on case and vaccination numbers.
“Once we have the 70 per cent vaccination rates, life will be much easier and of course once we hit 80 per cent, life will be as normal as we can expect during COVID,” Ms Berejiklian said.
More than 44 per cent of NSW residents over 16 have been jabbed at least once.
NSW Health minister Brad Hazzard admitted the hospital system was stretched, with 50 COVID patients in intensive care, with 22 ventilated.
Vic exposure sites ‘spread’
Victorians are bracing for more exposure sites spread across wider parts of the state as health authorities racing to contain the spread of Delta.
Four new cases of COVID-19 were detected on Friday, all of whom were infectious in the community before testing positive and all linked to previous cases.
The exposure site list has grown to more than 75 venues, including two tier one sites — a medical centre and a pathology collection centre, both in Caroline Springs.
Several schools have also been added as tier two sites, including Heathdale Christian College in Werribee and Warringa Park School in Hoppers Crossing, after positive cases were found in students.
COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar has warned Victorians the number of exposure sites will continue to grow.
“We’ll see exposure sites start to spread across wider parts of the city and potentially regional Victoria,” he said on Friday.
Professor Kelly said Victoria’s outbreak was showing “strong signs of coming to an end”, but he remained concerned about outstanding unlinked cases.
Health Minister Martin Foley warned the state was in “a precarious position”, and said lockdowns would remain a feature of Australia’s public health response until enough of the population was vaccinated.
Hopes of Qld freedom, but masks to stay until Christmas
Queenslanders are hoping for more good news after successive days of promising case numbers as the southeast counts down to the scheduled end of an eight day lockdown.
Deputy Premier Steven Miles said it was too early to confirm the lockdown would lift at 4pm on Sunday, but felt the tough restrictions were doing their job.
“All the indications are that it is working, we just need to keep it up. It is too soon to say what will happen over the next few days and whether we will be able to ease restrictions on Sunday,” he said on Friday.
The Delta outbreak based in Brisbane’s west is currently at 89 cases after 10 new infections were reported on Friday.
All were household contacts of existing cases and most had been in quarantine for their entire infectious periods.
Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said she wanted to see the numbers on Sunday morning before making the call to ease restrictions.
She said that even if lockdown ends, face masks could be mandated in Queensland until Christmas.
“If we want to try and avoid lockdowns, we are going to have to get used to wearing masks,” she said.
Meanwhile, Queensland is moving to shut its border with Victoria after it went into a seven-day lockdown.
From 1am on Sunday, all inbound travellers from Victoria must go into 14-day self-funded hotel quarantine in Queensland.