News National ‘Fine line’: How New South Wales can avoid Victoria’s stringent lockdowns
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‘Fine line’: How New South Wales can avoid Victoria’s stringent lockdowns

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Victorians have been in strict lockdown for weeks, but New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared her state has kept the coronavirus largely at bay despite a number of mystery cases.

The emergence of just four cases in one family prompted New Zealand to lock down Auckland for three days from Wednesday to contain any potential spread.

Experts say NSW could learn from Victoria and NZ to get ahead of its situation and prevent it from spiralling out of control.

On Wednesday, Ms Berejiklian said NSW was still “very in control” of its outbreaks despite 17 confirmed cases at a growing cluster at the Tangara School for Girls in Sydney, and no patient zero.

There are other cases at schools at Parramatta and Batemans Bay while a Castle Towers shopping centre, and a restaurant at Huskisson are also closed with anyone attending those venues urged to get tested.

However, if the state was to re-enter lockdown, it would look very different from Victoria or NZ, she said.

Instead of locking down postcodes of local government areas, Ms Berejiklian assessed “any future scenario would involve cities”.

nsw schools covid
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged schools to follow COVID protocols. Photo: TND

Worried? Don’t wait

Associate Professor Ying Zhang, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, said the NSW government should go a step further and make face masks mandatory in high-risk places like the supermarket.

“I’m a bit worried, to be honest,” Associate Professor Zhang told The New Daily. 

Given that we are having more clusters, I don’t think things are completely under control at the moment.’’

Rather than waiting for instructions from authorities, she encouraged residents to take matters into their own hands.

“We have to assess our own risks, our own situations,” she said.

“Every individual should be cautious.”

Preparation is key

Sydney residents should start mentally preparing for new coronavirus restrictions – including mandatory face masks – but there’s no need to jump the gun just yet.

That’s according to Dr Holly Seale, a senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales’ School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

“I think at this stage, we are still working on strong recommendations,” Dr Seale said.

“It is a challenging thing to predict what is going to be the outcome of these smaller community spikes – whether or not they will lead to ongoing transmission or a rise in case numbers where the point of contact is unknown. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

Dr Seale said Sydney residents who haven’t got a reusable face mask yet should consider ordering one soon as a precaution.

“I ordered some masks online from a local company three weeks ago, but I still haven’t received them,” she said.

“Over the coming week, we need to start priming people, getting them ready mentally to be thinking, ‘I may have to wear a mask’ but also giving them time to prepare the supplies they need.”

Walking a fine line

So far, NSW contact tracers have been able to track and trace nearly every coronavirus case to its original source.

This has been a critical part of keeping the state’s case numbers under control, said Dr Adam Craig, a lecturer in global health at UNSW’s School of Public Health and Community Medicine.

“One can criticise the NSW government all they like for stuffing up the Ruby Princess, but the reality is we’ve been on top of every case being notified within hours,” he said.

However, Dr Craig also said he expected the government was “ready to jump at the next level” if NSW kept recording 15 to 20 new coronavirus cases every day.

“Some people would say a pre-emptive approach like Queensland or NZ is over the top, but I think we are walking a fine line,” Dr Craig said.

He added while tougher restrictions may be necessary to contain the virus in some areas, “the response needs to be proportionate to the risk” to protect people’s livelihoods and mental health.