Greater Sydney lockdown could continue until August

Photo : The Australian.

bdpress news agency desk : Sydney’s lockdown could last until the end of August, one expert says, pointing to the difficulty Melbourne experienced getting its cases down during its second lockdown.

On Monday, a record 112 cases was announced in Greater Sydney with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian acknowledging it would be “almost impossible” for authorities to lift the lockdown on Friday as scheduled.

While the state has not yet revealed how long any extension would be, some experts have suggested it could last between three to four weeks.

Professor Michael Toole, a leading epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute pointed out Melbourne took six weeks to get its Covid cases down to almost zero from around 100 during its second lockdown last year.

The city — which endured a three and a half month lockdown last year — recorded 100 cases on August 30, 2020.

“It reached almost zero on October 14, so it took six to seven weeks, and that was with the strictest possible restrictions,” Prof Toole told news.com.au.

Greater Sydney’s current restrictions are not yet as strict as Melbourne’s Stage 4 rules, which included a curfew, 5km travel limit and the closure of non-essential retail shops.

“I went back and looked at the Burnet modelling after the second wave to try and identify what measures led to a significant change in the outbreak and the rate of new cases reported,” Prof Toole said.

“When Stage 3 restrictions were introduced, 14 days after there was a distinct change, it almost flattened the curve but it wasn’t enough to force a downward trend.

“Masks probably had the biggest impact but it still wasn’t enough so cases kept growing.

“Stage 4 basically led to the end of the outbreak but it took some time.”

Prof Toole believes Sydney should make its current lockdown more strict.

“I think we’ve shown over time that the faster and harder you go in, the shorter the lockdown is,” he said.

“I think Sydney’s just got to buckle down.”

‘Sydney has a chance to do better than Melbourne’

Prof Toole said Sydney’s outbreak was currently growing at a faster pace than Victoria’s second wave.

On Monday, which is day 26 of its outbreak, Greater Sydney reported 678 Covid cases. Victoria didn’t reach this many cases until day 45.

However, Prof Toole said he wasn’t saying NSW would end up like Victoria.

“Sydney began using masks right at the beginning, Victoria didn’t until after around day 45 so Sydney is ahead in that respect,” he said.

Sydney also locked down earlier than Melbourne did.

“Sydney has a chance to do a lot better than Melbourne did last year,” he said.

“We were extremely slow to do any kind of lockdown and once we did, the cat was already out of the bag, and the contact tracing couldn’t keep up.”

But Prof Toole said when Melbourne had 100 cases it was still in a strict lockdown and those measures continued until the city reached almost zero cases on October 14.

Some measures were eased during that time but Prof Toole said they included measures that Sydney has not yet introduced. For example, Melbourne’s curfew was changed from 8pm until later, and travel restrictions were lifted from 5km to 10km and then 20km. All non-essential retail was also closed.

Sydney does not have a curfew or a travel limit, although it says people can only exercise up to 10km from their home. Shops including Ikea and Harvey Norman are still open.

“Sydney has room to move,” Prof Toole said.

“The first thing they should do is close non-essential businesses. I understand why they haven’t, they probably want the Federal Government to provide some economic support but those stores allow the virus to circulate.”

Prof Toole said a positive case who was a worker at Ikea was found to have around 2000 close contacts, and each of those would have had about five contacts each.

“That’s 10,000 close contacts from just one case. That’s an enormous load for any system, no matter how good your contact tracing is,” he said.

Another concerning factor is the number of unlinked cases. Of the 112 cases announced on Monday, 48 cases were not linked to a known cluster and remained under investigation.

While this number is expected to reduce as contact tracers continue their work, Prof Toole said this was a lot considering the city was in a lockdown.

“You wouldn’t expect to see that many unlinked cases at this stage of a lockdown,” he said.

Prof Toole said Sydney’s outbreak seemed to be playing out in a similar way to Melbourne’s last year.

“The southwest of Sydney (where cases are now growing) is exactly the same as the northwest of Melbourne,” he said.

“There are a lot of casualised workers, travelling big distances on public transport to get to jobs. Maybe they don’t have the time or are afraid to get tested because they won’t be able to go to work.

“There are all sorts of reasons why this is spreading.

“We’ve got to give these people a safety net and then close those workplaces. That requires action by two governments (state and federal).

“You can’t just throw them out of their jobs, it’s ridiculous.”

Ms Berejiklian said Monday more financial support from the Federal government was “imminent”.

“I can assure you that the NSW treasurer and I have been involved in very high-level discussions on an ongoing basis,” she said.

‘You’ve got a long way to go’

Even though Ms Berejiklian appears to be setting a different target for opening up Sydney than Melbourne – pointing to a measure of zero cases infectious in the community, rather than zero cases in total, Prof Toole said this still set up Sydney for a long lockdown.

“Even if you got down to say 20 cases a day and there was one infectious in the community, and then the next day you had 18 cases day and zero in the community — you would still have to wait for a week because cases go up and down — before you would look at easing restrictions.

“Given there were so many cases out in the community yesterday, I think you’ve got a long way to go, unless something magical happens.

“But this virus won’t just go away. The bottom line is you’ve got to keep people away from each other.”

Prof Toole said that one thing Victoria did well after introducing the 5km travel limit was to set up an online work permit system that allowed people to download a pass on to their phone to show police if they needed to travel for longer distances for work or other reasons.

Authorities also allowed people living alone to nominate one other person who they could form a social bubble with. That person was allowed to travel more than 5km to visit the person living alone.

“People who live alone have a tough time, they really do,” Prof Toole said.

“In terms of loneliness and mental health, you’ve got to look after these single people.”

When it comes to schools, Prof Toole doesn’t think enough has been done to ensure children are safe.

Measures should include good ventilation, making sure all teachers were vaccinated and students over a certain age wore masks, there were staggered drop off and pick up times, and efforts to stop people mingling at the school gates.

“I just don’t think we’re prepared in any state, to open schools during an outbreak,” Prof Toole said.

Source : news.com.Australia

bdpress news agency/Ashik Imran.

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