Saturday, December 4, 2021

Fears new Sydney cases could spark restrictions

In the wake of NSW announcing three locally acquired Covid-19 cases in Sydney’s eastern suburbs – and a potential fourth in Baulkham Hills – questions have been raised about whether this could spark a new wave of restrictions for Greater Sydney.

The cases include a man in his 60s and his wife, reported last night, and a 70-year-old woman who was at Vaucluse’s Bell Cafe at the same time as the man – who Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced this morning. In his 40s has also tested positive in Baulkham Hills, though NSW Health determines whether the case is a false positive or an old topic because his viral load was “very low”.

Authorities are scrambling to determine how the man contracted the virus. He has not been overseas in recent times but does work as a driver, including transporting international flight crew, and as not vaccinated.

“Urgent investigations into the source of the infection and contact tracing are underway, as is genome sequencing,” NSW Health said in a statement.

Multiple exposure sites have now popped up across Sydney, with contacts being urgently contacted and asked to isolate.

Speaking to reporters this morning, Ms. Berejiklian announced no new restrictions but urged residents, especially in the eastern suburbs, not to get complacent.

“Socially distance. Make sure you hand sanitize. Make sure you don’t engage in any activity with large gatherings unless you absolutely have to. Just be extra cautious. Assume that everybody you’re in contact with has the virus and assume you have the virus yourself, and that’s the best advice we can give you as the next few days unfold,” she said.

While it’s not yet mandatory, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard also asked anyone traveling on public transport to wear their masks.

“Can I strongly suggest to the folks in the eastern suburbs definitely, if you’re getting on a bus at the moment, wear your mask? It’s sensible and safe for you, but it also stops, hopefully, any transmission to anybody else who might be on the bus. It’s one measure we can take to keep ourselves safe,” he said.

“Also, take seriously the venues of concern that [NSW] Health has identified. We’ve already heard that one 70-year-old lady happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and got the virus. That could happen to any one of us. Take it seriously. We will manage this.”

Authorities are scrambling to find the source of infection for this new eastern suburbs case and track down any chains of transmission that may be going undetected in the community.

Burnet Institute epidemiologist Professor Mike Toole said the next 24 hours would hopefully provide critical information relating to this case.

He told ABC’s Patricia Karvelas that whether or not restrictions will be brought in and how long they are in place will depend on whether any more positive cases are discovered.

Professor Toole said that if there is only a slight rise in linked cases, authorities would likely “go fairly easy on restrictions”.

“But you get several cases arising from, say, more than one of those exposure sites, and they may not be linked to each other, then I think we would have to consider stricter lockdowns,” he said.

“We know once you see this pattern getting a little out of control, you must go in quickly. And that usually leads to a short lockdown rather than the kind of dragged-out lockdowns you have seen in places like the UK.”

Professor Toole also noted the man visited many sites while potentially infectious, saying Victoria’s outbreak has shown how some of the more contagious variants can “spread very quickly through just casual contact in one of those environments”.

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