UPDATED: 4.50PM 09/08/2021 (AEST)
Byron Bay and surrounding areas will begin a snap lockdown on Monday night, amid fears a COVID-positive man might have spread the virus while in the community for days.
Locals will have a little over an hour’s notice of the lockdown, which the NSW government confirmed after 4.30pm on Monday.
The seven-day shutdown will begin at 6pm.
It followed pleas from community leaders in the NSW northern rivers region are pushing for a “short, sharp” lockdown after the case was confirmed earlier in the day.
The man, who is in his 50s, is in Lismore Hospital and his family was being interviewed throughout Monday afternoon.
NSW Health said he was infectious in the community for days, and they still do not know why he left the Sydney lockdown in late July to travel to Byron Bay.
“That matter is under investigation,” chief health officer Kerry Chant said.
“The gentleman himself has been admitted to hospital for the moment.”
Lismore Hospital has already introduced visitor limits after the COVID patient’s admission.
There are reportedly no QR check-ins from the family’s time in the northern NSW holiday spot, despite these being a legal requirement.
The case has sparked alarm in NSW and Queensland border towns, including Byron Shire, Richmond Valley, Tweed, Lismore, Kyogle and Ballina – especially as another regional NSW town, Tamworth, was ordered into a seven-day lockdown on Monday after confirmation of a visit by a Newcastle woman who later tested positive to the virus. There are so far no COVID cases in Tamworth.
Lismore MP Janelle Saffin said her area should also be locked down.
“It is clear to me that the northern rivers region needs to go into lockdown, and the sooner the better to get on top of a confirmed COVID-19 case notified overnight in the Byron area,” she said in a statement posted to Facebook on Monday.
“I know that lockdowns hurt, but bureaucratic delays hurt more.
“Considering that Tamworth is now in lockdown with no known cases, it follows that a similar lockdown here in the northern rivers is looming.
I encourage our community to remain vigilant, follow the COVID-19 rules and get tested even with the mildest of symptoms.”
Lismore mayor Vanessa Ekins agreed with the call, while Byron mayor Michael Lyon said it was crucial that anyone who was unwell got a virus test.
NSW Health has urged anyone in the northern rivers area “with even the mildest of symptoms” to be tested.
NSW confirmed another 283 local coronavirus infections on Monday, along with the death of an unvaccinated woman in her 90s from northern Sydney. The toll from the latest outbreak has risen to 29.
Of Monday’s cases, 106 spent at least some time in the community while infectious. The isolation status of another 71 remains under investigation.
Premiers in neighbouring states have again pushed for a ring of steel around Sydney to stop people leaving the lockdown area.
In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown of regional areas would end at midnight on Monday. But he renewed his push for more to be down in Sydney.
“There should be a ring of steel around Sydney, then we wouldn’t have to be to defending our border as much as we are,” he said.
To NSW’s north, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has threatened to impose her own hard border.
“We are absolutely concerned about what is happening in NSW,” Ms Palaszczuk said on Monday.
“The further north the virus travels is alarming for us, so we’ll be watching that incredibly carefully.
“We already have those border patrols in place at present, but if we have to go harder, we will.”
Queensland has already closed its border to NSW, and with some exemptions for its own residents and those who must travel for work or health reasons. Ms Palaszczuk said she wouldn’t hesitate to do more.
“We’ll have to be stopping everyone,” she said.
“We’re very concerned at the moment. We’re not at that stage, but if we have to go harder, we will.”
- See all of NSW’s virus exposure sites here
Armidale, which is about 200 kilometres from the Queensland border, began a seven-day shutdown at the weekend. Tamworth will join it from 5pm on Monday after the visit by the Newcastle woman.
Chief health officer Kerry Chant said the woman was exposed to COVID-19 in Newcastle before travelling to Tamworth last Wednesday.
She left Newcastle before it was included in the Hunter region lockdown from Thursday night, after at least five cases were reported in the area.
“The person who travelled to Tamworth at the time did not know she was infectious, it was subsequent to that she became aware. She’s now back in Newcastle and isolating,” Dr Chant said on Monday.
The woman returned to Newcastle by Thursday, but the health advice still recommended the city of about 62,000 people go into into lockdown.
Exposure sites in Tamworth include the Inland Cafe, Tudor Hotel, Gloria Jeans, Centrepoint, Super Vape Store and Ampol Roadhouse.