Tougher lockdown measures could be on the table for Australia’s most populous city after thousands of residents living in Covid hotspots ignored desperate pleas to stay at home.
The Australian Defence Force has already been called in to enforce the strict new measures that came into force across large parts of the country last month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison sent around 300 soldiers to parts of Sydney with higher migrant populations as well as southwestern areas yesterday to stop people leaving their homes more than once and break up gatherings, The Times reports.
It comes as the country continues to pursue a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy with aims to eliminate the virus despite mounting evidence it may be impossible – with cases continuing to rise and only 21 per cent of adults double vaccinated.
A record 319 cases were announced in Sydney on Saturday, with New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard warning a third of new infections came after people ignored stay at home measures.
ADF soldiers have been sent in to Sydney (pictured) to enforce lockdown in the city’s poor suburbs that are at the centre of Australia’s growing Covid outbreak
Sydneysiders (pictured on Saturday) could have to adhere to even tougher restrictions than currently in place with case numbers refusing to go down
Sydney has struggled to encourage poorer areas to get the Covid vaccine, with only 13 per cent vaccinated compared to 25 per cent in wealthier parts.
Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaw’s described the discrepancies between uptake as ‘shameful’ and explained many poorer areas are at a disadvantage due to language barriers, lower incomes and poor internet access.
Reaction to the soldiers’ presence has been mixed, with some arguing it could cause distress for people in the area due to the high refugee population and their experiences with war in their native countries.
The idea of a short ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown had already been mooted by the nation’s chief medical officer, Professor Paul Kelly, as Australia desparately battles against a tide of new cases in its bid for ‘zero Covid’ status.
Senior political figures back the plans, with New South Wales Labor leader Chris Minns explaining in the Daily Telegraph that the government must ‘hold to the strategy of bringing community transmission to zero or close to zero.’
As the Delta variant continues to ravage the country, Australia’s coveted status as a haven from the pandemic could be at an end, with experts warning that a sustained outbreak of the variant makes a return to ‘Covid zero’ unlikely.
After long stretches with zero local cases – what Australians once jokingly referred to as ‘doughnut days’ – a Sydney outbreak has now grown to 4,610.
The Canterbury-Bankstown region has become the city’s biggest virus hotspot (pictured is Belmore)
NSW Health announced an alarming list of new infectious person had been on campus at an international boarding house all day for 11-consecutive days, with fears the virus could become out of control in the state’s regional areas.
While modelling shows the current restrictions have ‘suppressed’ the outbreak and prevented cases reaching into the thousands, Professor Paul Kelly said the state needed to find ‘new ways’ to reduce infections.
‘There is clearly a need for a circuit breaker. I’ve had many discussions with my colleague in New South Wales around that,’ he said.
Potentially hundreds of staff and students have been exposed to the highly-infectious Delta variant as the virus embeds itself in the state’s regional areas, including at Newcastle University where 37,100 students call home.
The university confirmed on Friday two students had tested positive for the virus so far, with further cases expected after the length of exposure.
The new Covid exposure sites also included medical centres and pharmacies in Sydney’s west including St Mary’s and Penrith, as well as a barber in Kotara.
Ex-pats hoping to leave Australia after a visit will have to demonstrate a ‘compelling reason for need to leave the Australian territory’ to the Australian Border Force Commissioner.
The move is likely to force some ex-pats hoping to return home to re-think their travel plans, and could also leave families separated in not all members travelled back to the country at the same time.
‘We’ve seen too many instances where people have left the country only for in relatively short order to put their names on the request list to come back,’ Finance Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters in Australia’s Canberra capital.
‘That just puts additional pressure and additional difficulties in terms of managing the finite number of places that can safely be administered for returning Australians.’
A student at a college in the University of Newcastle Callaghan Campus (pictured) was infectious for 11 days
Pictured: A graph showing new coronavirus cases in Australia per day
There have been calls for a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown for Sydney to drive Covid cases back down to zero
AUSTRALIA’S VACCINE ROLLOUT AT AUGUST 7
Per cent of the population over 16 who have had their first or second jab.
AUSTRALIA first dose 43.60
second dose 21.95
ACT first dose 50.44
second dose 25.64
NSW first dose 45.46
second dose 22.29
NT first dose 44.16
second dose 26.83
QLD first dose 39.35
second dose 21.12
SA first dose 43.37
second dose 21.83
TAS first dose 50.48
second dose 27.20
VIC first dose 44.01
second dose 21.87
WA first dose 39.22
second dose 18.97
Only 20.8 per cent of adults are double vaccinated due to a lack of supply, one of the lowest jab rates in the OECD group of 38 rich nations.
Record numbers of new cases are being reported each day despite widespread lockdowns.
Slowly but surely, some local authorities have shifted to talking about containing the virus rather than beating it.
‘Given where numbers are, given the experience of Delta overseas, we now have to live with Delta one way or another, and that is pretty obvious,’ said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
After 18 months of advocating ‘Covid zero’, that represents a step-change in the country’s approach.
For experts like Emma McBryde, an infectious diseases and statistical modelling expert at James Cook University, the shift in tone is a reflection of the new reality that Delta has brought.
On Saturday, NSW recorded 319 Covid cases and five deaths.
Three of the deaths have been linked to an outbreak in Liverpool Hospital sparked when a staff member knowingly worked while infectious.
A southwest Sydney man, aged in his 60s, and an inner west man aged in his 80s also died in hospital on Friday after acquiring infections in the community.
Four new cases have been reported in the Newcastle area, including at John Hunter Hospital, with half yet to be linked to a known case.
Two further cases found overnight were in the Armidale Regional local government area, which entered a one-week lockdown at 5pm on Saturday.
Sydney has struggled to encourage poorer areas to get the Covid vaccine, with only 13 per cent vaccinated compared to 25 per cent in wealthier parts. Pictured: Police and soliders enforce lockdown in Sydney
Australians who live abroad will soon have to apply for an exemption to leave the country should they visit it. Pictured: Passengers wearing PPE at Sydney Airport in July
A long-distance train from Broadmeadow in Newcastle to Armidale via Werris Creek near Tamworth is listed as a close contact exposure site for July 29 between 11.40am and 5.30pm, suggesting a positive case may have carried the virus across the state.
The stay-at-home order applies to all 30,000 people who live in the council area and those there at any time since July 31.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard apologised as he explained contact tracers need time to investigate potential transmissions from a young person who entered the area.
COVID-19 was also detected in Dubbo in the state’s central west.
Nearly 350 people are being treated in hospital – more than double the figures two weeks ago.
There are also eight people under 40 in the ICU with Covid.
At least 83 new cases reported on Saturday were in the community during their infectious period, with the isolation status of 98 others unknown.
NSW Health also added another 63 exposure sites to the venue list on Friday evening.
The new exposure sites follow New South Wales’ highest day of Covid infections with 319 cases and five deaths recorded on Saturday (pictured Sydney residents line up for AstraZeneca vaccination)
The Commonwealth Bank in Burwood, in Sydney’s inner west has been listed as an exposure site on Tuesday, August 3 from 8:15am to 5:15pm and during the same times on Wednesday, August 4
The Belmore Physiotherapy and Sports Injury Centre in the city’s south-west was exposed to the virus on Tuesday August 3 between 1pm and 5.30pm
BREAKDOWN OF NSW CASES ON SATURDAY
112 from South Western Sydney
98 from Western Sydney LHD
57 from Sydney LHD
23 from Nepean Blue Mountains LHD
20 from South Eastern Sydney LHD
Seven from Northern Sydney LHD
Two from the Hunter New England LHD
Member for Armidale Adam Marshall confirmed the LGA will go into lockdown from 5pm on Saturday for one week after a woman tested positive to Covid. One of her household contacts is also believed to be a positive case.
The town – which is home to 29,704 residents – is almost six hours drive away from Sydney’s CBD and the epicentre of the Covid crisis.
The stay-at-home order applies to all people in the council area since July 31.
There’s also been four new cases reported in Newcastle, which along with the Hunter region has joined Greater Sydney in lockdown.
These cases have all been recorded in younger people, health authorities said.
The Emergency Department at the John Hunter Hospital New Lambton Heights, in Newcastle, has meanwhile been put on Covid alert.
An apartment block in Liverpool, in the city’s south-west has also now been locked down after fears of a Covid outbreak in the area.
There are currently 56 people in NSW in intensive care with the virus. Pictured are residents in Coogee Beach on Saturday morning
There are 14 people infected with the virus at the unit block on Campbell Street.
‘All residents of this block have been determined to be close contacts and are required to isolate for 14 days and undergo repeat testing,’ a spokesperson said.
‘Testing of residents will be done in their apartments, as they cannot leave during their isolation period.’
Virus experts have called for a new type of test to implemented.
Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said the only way to stop the cycle was using high-quality antigen tests, which return results within 15 minutes, to check workers at large sites.
‘The only way around this is test, test, test,’ she told ABC radio on Friday.
‘This is a screening test to make sure that people are coming on to the shop floor or the packing room or truck driving safely.’
Senior cabinet minister Simon Birmingham said the federal government was in active discussions about using rapid tests at essential workplaces in Sydney.
‘We definitely want to see the availability for rapid antigen testing used in an effective and efficient way,’ he told Sky News.
ADF soldiers are seen walking in Fairfield in the city’s west where a worrying surge in cases have been seen