Another eight communities of regional NSW were plunged into lockdown late on Wednesday after a positive case in Walgett and fears of potential spread in the region’s vulnerable Indigenous population.
A one-week snap lockdown came into force at 7pm in Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine, Walgett and Warren LGAs in the state’s north-west, while authorities scramble to ascertain all exposure sites.
A 27-year-old man from Walgett, who was in Bathurst Correctional Centre from Saturday to Monday, visited Dubbo and Bathurst during his infectious period before returning to Walgett.
“The police are talking to him now to find out the route he took from where he was to get home” said Walgett Shire mayor Ian Woodcock.
“I am frustrated a little bit but what can you do these things happen.”
Barwon MP Roy Butler said having coronavirus in the region was the news he had feared most.
“I’m incredibly concerned about a positive case or cases in our communities, we don’t have the comprehensive health services to cope with a breakout,” Mr Butler told the ABC.
“The news I have feared the most is confirmation of a COVID infection in a Barwon river town. These communities have many people with underlying health issues and often under resourced health services.
“I know some people won’t be happy about it, but I would be less happy to see our health services overwhelmed.
“The message is stay home unless you absolutely need to for one of the essential reasons listed.”
- Related story: Experts fear Sydney lockdown could drag until November
The newly locked down areas join Dubbo, Tamworth, the Northern Rivers, Armidale, Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens, Singleton, Dungog, and Muswellbrook.
Authorities are working to find the source of two positive cases which plunged Dubbo into lockdown on Wednesday while the situation in Tamworth, Armidale and the Northern Rivers is hopeful after no new cases.
The Hunter region is unlikely to come out of lockdown on Thursday after 14 new cases were recorded.
Meanwhile police will be reportedly granted more powers to enforce public health orders and further restrict movement out of Sydney.
The Australian newspaper reports on Thursday the new powers will be handed to police commissioner Mick Fuller to crack down on people breaching restrictions and stop Sydneysiders from leaving the city using loopholes in the rules.
It comes after a 52-year-old Sydney man who prompted the Byron Bay lockdown after travelling to the region while symptomatic was charged. He is currently being treated for COVID-19 at Lismore Base Hospital.
NSW had its second worst day of the eight-week outbreak on Wednesday with 344 new locally acquired cases, with at least 101 circulating in the community for all or part of their infectious period.
There were 20 new local cases in Melbourne for a second consecutive day, prompting at least a one-week lockdown extension.
Victoria has also introduced a permit system for a 14-day period, for travellers moving into the state from NSW border communities.
Residents needing to travel in the “border bubble” will need to apply for a permit from Thursday, with enforcement to take place from Friday night.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it was “important that we don’t only limit movement that we have the clearest picture of who is moving within that .. bubble”.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been increasingly linking the lifting of lockdowns in the state to vaccination rates and appears to have all but abandoned any hope of an August 28 end to strict restrictions.
Ms Berejiklian said some people in NSW might be allowed more freedoms if six million vaccinations — or roughly 50 per cent having a first dose — were administered by the end of August.
“That is what we are working towards and something that our government is very keen to make possible,” she said.
She said 70 per cent coverage vaccination was the target which could be reached around the end of October.
But life would not be “back to normal” until 80 per cent of the population was vaccinated towards the end of November, the premier said, referencing the Doherty Institute modeling produced for the national cabinet.
Stay the course on masks, lockdowns
Masks and restrictions on movement will remain essential until the COVID-19 vaccination rate lifts, senior government members say.
A number of coalition members have spoken out against the use of masks and lockdowns, arguing it is time for greater freedom and to treat coronavirus like the flu.
Most prominent has been Queensland MP George Christensen, who received a parliamentary rebuke this week led by Labor leader Anthony Albanese and backed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
But Regional Health Minister and medical specialist Dr David Gillespie said it was beyond doubt mask wearing was controlling the spread of the virus.
“A lot of people are frustrated, I acknowledge that, but masks help control the spread,” he told the ABC.
“What you unconsciously spit out when you are talking or when you are in a crowded train or bus can transmit it.
“It can come in through your eyes and down your tear ducts into your airways.
“It’s not going to cure it … but it certainly helps control the spread which is what we are trying to do while we ramp up vaccinations.”
Dr Gillespie said many people were discounting the severity of the virus, and rejecting the need for travel restrictions, because Australia had not faced the same mortality and hospitalisation rates as other countries.
But while the restrictions were difficult, “the alternative is far worse”.
Across the globe, 4.3 million people have died from COVID-19 out of 204 million cases.
COVID treatment drugs
A malaria drug, a cancer drug and a drug used for people with diseases of the immune system are being tested for use in COVID-19 patient, the WHO says.
A clinical trial in 52 countries will study the three anti-inflammatory medications.
“These therapies — artesunate, imatinib and infliximab — were selected by an independent expert panel for their potential in reducing the risk of death in hospitalised COVID-19 patients,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“Finding more effective and accessible therapeutics for COVID-19 patients remains a critical need”.
“There are many variants and all variants can appear anywhere on the planet. And so having so many sites in so many different countries and regions will help us get to these answers as fast as possible,” said Marie Pierre Preziosi, co-lead of the research and development blueprint at the WHO.
Artesunate is already used for severe malaria, imatinib for certain cancers and infliximab for diseases of the immune system such as Crohn’s Disease and rheumatoid arthritis.