Sydney’s Covid crisis is now the problem for 80 per cent of people living in New South Wales, with 6.6 million in the state living under lockdown.
Coronavirus spot fires have flared up right across the state from Byron Bay and the Northern Rivers, to the Hunter Valley region and even in vulnerable outback communities in the north-west.
In a desperate bid to stop the spread, sweeping changes are coming to Sydney’s leaking lockdown as police are handed extraordinary powers to enforce restrictions.
Police Commissioner Mick Fuller will take over the response to the Harbour City’s outbreak from Health Minister Brad Hazzard, as frustration grows over the current rules, which have seen Sydneysiders flee to second homes and others spending hours sunbaking.
80 per cent of people in New South Wales live in the locked down regions highlighted in red
Police have been given greater powers to crack down on Covid rule-breakers amid fears people are unknowingly spreading the virus while abusing loopholes in the law (pictured, police at a sun-drenched Bondi Beach on Wednesday)
Police Commissioner Mick Fuller will take over the response to the Harbour City’s outbreak as frustration grows over the current rules, which have seen Sydneysiders flee to second homes and others spending hours sunbaking (pictured, women at Bondi on Tuesday)
EVERYWHERE IN NSW LIVING UNDER COVID LOCKDOWNS
There are about 6.6 million NSW residents now living under stay-at-home orders, which represents about 80 per cent of the state.
These regions include:
– All of Greater Sydney including the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour
– Dubbo LGA including the suburbs of Dubbo, Wellington, Wongarbon, Geurie, Brocklehurst, Stuart Town, Mumbil and Eumungerie
– The Central West region including Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine, Walgett and Warren LGAs
– Hunter and Upper Hunter including Newcastle, Cessnock, Dungog, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Muswellbrook, Port Stephens and Singleton LGAs
– Armidale LGA (including Guyra)
– Tamworth LGA
– The Northern Rivers region including Ballina, Byron, City of Lismore and Richmond Valley LGAs
Commissioner Fuller and Police Minister David Elliott told a crisis cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon the orders are proving difficult to enforce, due to a ‘virtually unworkable’ standoff between cops and health officials.
It was revealed that some health workers have refused to hand over details of compliance breaches because they ‘sympathise’ with Covid rule-breakers.
Increasingly frustrated by the split, Commissioner Fuller demanded greater powers to tackle Sydney’s climbing case numbers – a move which infuriated Mr Hazzard as tempers boiled over at the meeting.
NSW Police and their own in-house legal team are now discussing amendments that will enable them to crack down on rule-breakers and breaches in virus hotspots to coincide with the rollout of vaccines in pharmacies.
The remote community of Walgett in the state’s northwest, 230km east of Bourke, will enter a snap seven-day lockdown after a local man tested positive to the virus on Wednesday
Commissioner Fuller and Police Minister David Elliott told a crisis cabinet meeting on Wednesday the orders are proving difficult to enforce, due to a ‘virtually unworkable’ standoff between cops and health officials (pictured, police at Bondi on Wednesday)
The revisions are expected to include a ban on residents travelling to their second properties, such as beach houses, a bigger ADF presence, and heavier policing of singles bubbles to ensure only two people are coming into contact.
In one specific incident that outraged police, information regarding a super-spreader event was not passed on to investigators, with health officials feeling uncomfortable about getting the group fined.
‘We still haven’t got the details of the 50 people who went to the Pendle Hill funeral,’ and official who was briefed on the matter told The Australian.
The illegal gathering in July in southwestern Sydney saw the majority of those in attendance infected with the virus – with one family member later dying of Covid.
In one specific incident that outraged police, information regarding a super-spreader event was not passed on to investigators, with health officials feeling uncomfortable about getting the group fined (pictured, a swimmer on Bondi Beach on Wednesday)
Police are said to have found Sydney’s lockdown ‘impossible’ to manage, prompting sweeping changes to their powers (pictured, Bondi on Wednesday)
THE CHANGES COMING TO SYDNEY’S LOCKDOWN
- A ban on Sydneysiders travelling to second residences intrastate
- Greater policing powers to ensure compliance within singles bubbles
- More ADF troops deployed across the city to help police the public health orders
Police hope changing a rule that permits locked-down Sydneysiders to move between residences will stem the spread of Covid into regional areas.
Meanwhile, modifications to single bubbles – which allow two who both live alone to visit each others’ houses – will make it easier for police to check compliance.
The NSW Government is also expected to request more ADF troops to help oversee the orders.
The announcement came a day after Gladys Berejiklian insisted she would not introduce harsher lockdown measures unless they have a proven impact on virus transmission.
There have been mounting calls for tougher measures as infection numbers in NSW have remained stubbornly high despite an increasingly tight lockdown, particularly in Sydney’s west and southwest.
NSW reported 344 new local cases of Covid on Wednesday – the second highest daily tally on record – as Sydney’s contagion shows no signs of slowing down.
The state also recorded four deaths – a man in his 70s, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 80s, as well as a returned traveller in his 80s unlinked to the current outbreak. All were unvaccinated.
Sydney and surrounds are in lockdown until at least August 28, while the Hunter, Byron Bay, Armidale and Tamworth are enduring snap lockdowns.
The outback town of Walgett was also plunged into a snap seven-day lockdown from 7pm on Wednesday night after a local man who had recently travelled to Dubbo and Bathurst tested positive.
The restrictions will apply to residents in the eight LGAs of Bogan, Bourke, Brewarrina, Coonamble, Gilgandra, Narromine, Walgett and Warren.
Residents of the eight affected LGAs will be subject to the same restrictions as those in Greater Sydney, Dubbo, Tamworth, and other parts of the state.
An infected man is believed to have also travelled through Bathurst during his infectious period (pictured, downtown in the city of Bathurst) – plunging the area into lockdown
People in the eight LGAs are permitted to leave home for only four main reasons, shopping for essential goods, medical care, exercise or essential work or education.
The new case is the fourth to be recorded by Western NSW Local Health District during the most recent outbreak.
Walgett Shire Mayor Ian Woodcock said authorities were scrambling to ascertain all of the exposure spots after the person visited Dubbo and Bathurst.
‘The police are talking to him now to find out the route he took from where he was to get home’ Mr Woodcock said.
‘I am frustrated a little bit but what can you do, these things happen.’
Local state MP Roy Butler described the newest case of the virus as ‘the news I have feared the most’.
Mr Butler announced the case in a post on Facebook on Wednesday evening and said the man had travelled through the region not knowing he was infected.
Dubbo Regional Council has also been plunged into lockdown after two people tested positive to the virus (pictured, Church Street in Dubbo)
Dubbo, in the state’s northwest, entered a snap lockdown from 1pm Wednesday as residents are urged to get tested after a case emerged at Dubbo West Public School (pictured)
‘The contact tracers have interviewed him and that information will be made public shortly,’ the Facebook post read.
I hope a second test will show negative, but we must act for now as if this is confirmed. Walgett has good community leadership and I know this town will pull together to overcome this.’
A serious Indian Delta outbreak in the far-flung outback town could spell disaster with a lack of health services in the area, low vaccination rates and vulnerable Indigenous population that represents one third of the community.
Health experts have long warned that First Nations People are at greater risk of the virus due to the prevalence of underlying health conditions.
The alert came just hours after Dubbo Regional Council were ordered into lockdown after two people also tested positive to the virus.
Police Commissioner Mick Fuller (pictured) is set to take over the response to Sydney’s spiralling Covid crisis
The amendments will give police greater powers to crack down on rule-breakers (pictured, police officers speak to a man during patrols in Bondi)
Dubbo, in the state’s northwest, entered a snap lockdown from 1pm Wednesday as residents are urged to get tested after a case emerged at a local school.
A second case in the region has since tested positive.
Dubbo West Public School has been closed after the Department of Education was advised by NSW Health of the infection late Tuesday night.
Ms Berejiklian said her government would be glad to consider further measures to limit movement and interaction, but few remained that were proven to reduce virus transmission.
Curfews were listed among this category.
She said that, given the virulence of the Indian Delta variant and its prevalence among essential workers obliged to leave home, a focus on the rapid vaccination of locked-down communities was preferable.
With 80 per cent of people in New South Wales living in lockdown, panic buying has resumed in some areas (pictured, a supermarket in Byron Bay on Wednesday)
However, compliance with health orders remains crucial.
It comes after a virus-positive Sydney man travelled to Byron Bay reportedly to view a property and is accused of refusing to use QR code check-ins. The incident sent the Northern Rivers region into its lockdown.
‘Policy positions that may have worked in the past aren’t going to have effect with Delta, it’s something we need to accept,’ the premier said on Tuesday.
‘Short of not having authorised workers do what’s necessary, it’s really difficult to get to lower cases without that targeted vaccine strategy.
‘We need to treat (Delta) differently, and NSW doesn’t have any intention of putting in strategies that aren’t going to work.’
The death toll from the current outbreak now sits at 32. There are 60 Covid patients in intensive care, with 28 ventilated.
Ms Berejiklian reiterated her government’s aspiration remained ‘Covid zero’, as per national cabinet, but also that NSW would consider partially easing restrictions once it reaches six million vaccinations.
About 4.6 million jabs have been administered so far, with 23.59 per cent of eligible NSW residents fully vaccinated.
While locked-down Armidale and Tamworth have not recorded new virus cases, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said new infections were uncovered in the Hunter. A case unlinked to the travelling Sydney man was also found in Byron Bay.
Dr Chant later told Tuesday’s parliamentary inquiry a West Hoxton party in which almost every unvaccinated guest caught Covid-19 was a root cause of the virus’ western Sydney prevalence.
‘It was thought that cluster had been identified very early but there were issues around containment that weren’t appreciated,’ Dr Chant said.