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The NSW health minister has awkwardly defended Kerry Chant as they were grilled by a parliamentary inquiry on their response to the state’s Covid outbreak.

Brad Hazzard grew irritated as he and Dr Chant were quizzed about why it took health officials so long to lock down Sydney after the outbreak began on June 16.

However, instead of letting his colleague defend herself, he butted in on questions with his own answers before Dr Chant could get a word in.

At one point he defended Dr Chant’s work ethic when Greens MP David Shoebridge pushed her to be more specific about vaccination rates in NSW.

‘Can I just say David – Dr Chant is very tired. She’s working 18 hours a day – I think you need to give her more licence to answer the question fairly,’ he said.

Mr Shoebridge moments earlier asked Dr Chant to be clearer about the freedoms she believed Sydneysiders would be afforded once vaccination rates reach 50 per cent.

The intense inquiry revealed a chain of transmission that NSW Health missed, leading it to think the Delta outbreak wasn’t as bad as it was and no lockdown was needed.

Dr Chant said the outbreak was effectively shut down in the city’s east where it began, but a birthday party in western Sydney became a super-spreader event infecting dozens.

Health authorities did not realise they didn’t get all the attendees’ contacts fast enough before they infected others, and how quickly Covid was then spreading through southwest Sydney

‘Looking back, there was a chain of transmission that was not detected and that was also playing into the mind that we needed to lock down,’ Dr Chant said.

‘So all I can say is that we were looking closely at the information available working with our public health networks, and provided advice to government on a range of strategies.’ 

Mr Hazzard seemed to be on the defensive from the outset, saying it was ‘ridiculous’ that he and Dr Chant were being dragged away from their work to answer questions about how outbreaks and lockdowns were being handled.

He became further annoyed when asked by NSW Labor MP Penny Sharpe how long it took the state to make a decision on a city-wide lockdown.

‘It’s not that easy Ms Sharpe,’ the minister replied.

‘I know you haven’t been the health minister but when you’re in the middle of a Covid crisis, I spend pretty well every day here in the health building,’ he said.

'Dr Chant is very tired,' Mr Hazzard told state MPs. 'She's working 18 hours a day - I think you need to give her more licence to answer the question fairly,' he said.

'Dr Chant is very tired,' Mr Hazzard told state MPs. 'She's working 18 hours a day - I think you need to give her more licence to answer the question fairly,' he said.

‘Dr Chant is very tired,’ Mr Hazzard told state MPs. ‘She’s working 18 hours a day – I think you need to give her more licence to answer the question fairly,’ he said.

He then continued on detailing the work he and Dr Chant have done and their process for assessing what restrictions were needed.

‘A question was put to Dr Chant I think we should get an answer from her,’ Mr Shoebridge interrupted.

‘Can I remind you we’ve volunteered to come here, we don’t acknowledge you have the capacity to have us here,’ Mr Hazzard then fired back. 

Mr Shoebridge pushed on asking if he will allow Dr Chant to answer the question asked of her – prompting an even more incensed response. 

‘No I will answer the question its not up to you to determine who answers the questions, I’m the health minister and I will answer it,’ he said. 

The back and forth continued on with NSW Labor MP Courtney Houssos attempting to get a question through to Dr Chant.  

‘I’m sorry but either I get to finish answers or I’m not going to bother, Seriously I’ve got to answer the question.’ Mr Hazzard said. 

Mr Hazzard also bristled when it was suggested he was bringing advice from Dr Chant to cabinet and there was push back from MPs about following the recommendations. 

At another point, Dr Chant was asked if she would provide documents about her lockdown advice, but Mr Hazzard interrupted before she could speak to insist: ‘Dr Chant will not be releasing any documents’.

Mr Hazzard pictured at the daily NSW Covid-19 press conference on Tuesday. He grew irritated as he and Dr Chant were quizzed about why it took health officials so long to lockdown Sydney after the outbreak began on June 16

Mr Hazzard pictured at the daily NSW Covid-19 press conference on Tuesday. He grew irritated as he and Dr Chant were quizzed about why it took health officials so long to lockdown Sydney after the outbreak began on June 16

Mr Hazzard pictured at the daily NSW Covid-19 press conference on Tuesday. He grew irritated as he and Dr Chant were quizzed about why it took health officials so long to lockdown Sydney after the outbreak began on June 16

A main focus of the committee meeting was asking why Sydney’s lockdown took 10 days to be announced after a June 16 incident involving a limo driver who had the delta strain. 

An eastern suburbs lockdown was implemented on June 25, but Mr Shoebridge questioned why this wasn’t earlier, given traces of Covid in 12 sewage plants. 

‘By the time the decision was made, the Delta variant was loose across all of Sydney. Dr Chant, you must have been troubled by the numbers rising day after day after day? Were you suggesting a lockdown before then?’ he said.

Dr Chant replied: ‘We did have success in bringing the cases down. But there was a seeding event in West Hoxton.

‘With the benefit of hindsight, there are different decisions that can be made.’

Dr Chant said the super-spreading event – a birthday party with about 30 attendees in south-west Sydney – on June 23 contributed to significant chains of transmission. 

Mr Shoebridge asked why, if the party was so concerning, the area of western Sydney around the house it was held in was not locked down.

Dr Chant admitted that in hindsight it was ‘very easy to see that there was a greater risk of the seeding in south-western Sydney than was appreciated’. 

‘The initial intelligence was that the West Hoxton party was effectively controlled [and] everyone immediately contacted within the timeframe,’ she explained.

‘There were subsequent emerging issues associated with that, and I’d be happy to reflect on the thinking at that particular time.’

Pictured are residents in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney's east on Tuesday. Dr Chant has been quizzed about her response to the city's outbreak when its epicentre was contained to the eastern suburbs in June

Pictured are residents in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney's east on Tuesday. Dr Chant has been quizzed about her response to the city's outbreak when its epicentre was contained to the eastern suburbs in June

Pictured are residents in Rushcutters Bay in Sydney’s east on Tuesday. Dr Chant has been quizzed about her response to the city’s outbreak when its epicentre was contained to the eastern suburbs in June

Mr Hazzard at one point in the meeting accused the committee of a ‘beat-up’ after Greens MP Care Faerhmann suggested Sydney wasn’t locked down soon enough.

‘If it’s a beat-up on the government, well ok, we’re here but beat it up somewhere else.

‘Dr Chant’s really busy and I’m really busy. If you want to actually discuss the issues properly we’re here to do it.’

Dr Chant and Mr Hazzard appeared before the upper house oversight committee on Tuesday as the state recorded another 356 cases of the virus overnight.

The inquiry will center around the health advice given by Dr Chant in the early stages of Sydney’s Covid-19 outbreak in June when it was mainly confined to the eastern suburbs. 

At another point in Tuesday’s the meeting epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely was asked about Covid case numbers and modelling and how that information is presented to governments. 

‘The federal government relying on one group for modelling, the Doherty Institute, that’s not how the UK do it, they have three groups,’ Prof Blakely said.

‘One model could be wrong but if you have three models providing the same result then you can be confident as a policy maker. 

‘We need multiple groups making these models available to federal government and state governments for that matter.’ 

Source: DailyMail

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