The coronavirus outbreak in Sydney has reached record levels, con 239 new cases announced in New South Wales on Thursday, the highest one-day total for Australia’s most populous state since the pandemic began.
The state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced stricter measures for the hotspots in eight local government areas “of concern” in the western and south-western parts of the city. They include requiring masks to be worn outdoors by the two million residents living in those areas, a travel limit of 5km and tougher police powers.
Thousands of police will also be deployed across the hotspot to enforce tougher rules as NSW desperately tries to curb the growing case numbers.
The state police minister, David Elliott, said an “overwhelming number of people had had a gutful” of their fellow residents doing the wrong thing, as shown by the number of calls to Crime Stoppers. State police commissioner, Mick Fuller, said there had been 15,000 complaints to the reporting hotline.
Police powers have been increased, including the ability to shut down non-compliant businesses and impose bigger fines. Not wearing a mask will now be punishable by a $500 fine instead of $200. “Extra emphasis” will be placed on compliance rather than giving people warnings and educating them about the rules.
Berejiklian also faced questions as to whether the city’s lockdown should have been tougher from the start. Of the new cases confirmed on Thursday, più di 80% were in the local government areas of concern. When asked whether the government’s increasing list of restrictions was akin to death by 1,000 cuts, the premier responded by comparing Australia to the rest of the world.
“If you look at other places around the world and the way the Delta strain has taken over communities, even when vaccination rates have been higher than ours, we can take some comfort in the fact that today we haven’t had thousands and thousands of cases, thousands of people in hospital and many more deaths, and that’s what these lockdowns are about," lei disse.
Australia has reported a fraction of the cases seen in other developed countries – fewer than 35,000 in total – and its death toll, for now, remains below 1,000.
Sydney is in its fifth week of an extended nine-week lockdown, which is scheduled to end on 28 agosto. Authorities have said Sydney’s lockdown will not ease until cases in the community – people who were not in isolation while infectious – are near zero.
“It only takes a handful of people, or a small percentage, to do the wrong thing, to cause a setback for all of us. We can’t afford setbacks,” Berejiklian told reporters.
She warned that case numbers would likely continue to rise. “And that means more deaths," lei disse. Two deaths – a woman in her 90s and a man in his 80s – were reported on Thursday. Both had not been vaccinated and were household contacts of known cases.
Greater Sydney’s extended lockdown of around six million people is expected to take a heavy toll on Australia’s AU$2tn (US$1.50tn) economy with many businesses forced to close, raising prospects of the country recording its second recession in as many years, economists say.
NSW’s health minister, Brad Hazzard, called people who refuse to be vaccinated – and media figures who discouraged vaccinations – “extremely selfish”. “I would say even more than that, what a ridiculous position is that when you are going to put health staff at risk and when you get sick, you are going to expect to come into hospital and get paid for by taxpayers," Egli ha detto.
“It is time for those who actually think that way to wake up, including commentators who actually don’t base their commentary on logic whatsoever.”
Shortly afterwards, NewsCorp’s Daily Telegraph ended the column of one such commentator, right-wing former radio host Alan Jones. The paper’s editor reportedly said the column did not “resonate” with readers. Jones’ final column last week criticised Australia’s response to Covid-19, which he argues is no worse than the flu for healthy people.
Più di 2,800 cases have been detected in the New South Wales outbreak so far, con 182 people hospitalised. Fifty-four are in intensive care, 22 of whom require ventilation. Two new deaths were recorded, taking the total number of deaths in the latest outbreak to 13. The number of new cases who had been infectious in the community was 66.
Infections have steadily risen despite Greater Sydney being in lockdown since 26 giugno, in part because just 17% of people in the state are fully vaccinated. It is expected that the lockdown could continue beyond August and into the Australian summer.
University of Sydney modelling released on Thursday predicted that a lockdown would be needed until at least mid-September if by that stage 40% of the greater Sydney population was vaccinated.