New South Wales has recorded a record 356 new locally-acquired cases of COVID-19 and three further deaths related to the current outbreak.
The three deaths reported overnight include a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s and another man in his 70s. None of the three people were vaccinated.
A returned traveller in his 80s unlinked to the current outbreak has also died.
“Of course, we extend our deepest heartfelt condolences to all the loved ones of those three patients,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Tuesday.
“As always, [it’s] so sad when you hear about deaths especially from elderly people who – unfortunately for whatever reason won’t get vaccinated – because that is proving to be an ongoing challenge. Those who have had two doses of vaccination have so far avoided any ICU, mortality.”
Greater Sydney and surrounding regions are in lockdown until at least 28 August, as health authorities battle to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant.
Of the new cases reported in the 24 hours to 8pm, 97 were in the community for whole or part of their infectious period is 97. The isolation status of 157 people is under investigation. At least 209 cases have not been linked to known cases.
None of the new cases are connected to Tamworth or Armidale, which are also under a snap lockdown.
‘Strong suppression works’
Ms Berejiklian did not rule out further restrictions such as a curfew or a “ring of steel”, but said the focus was on vaccination to reduce the spread of the virus.
“If health advice adjusted to us there was further needed do, we would do it. We have to accept that part of the challenge we have NSW is because of lack of compliance and part of the challenge is because Delta is very different to anything we have seen before.”
She said stricter restrictions for the eight local government areas of concern in western and south-west Sydney had prevented a further skyrocketing of new infections.
“Strong suppression works in that we don’t have hundreds of thousands of cases and deaths,” she said.
The premier said “further freedoms” would come if the state’s vaccination rate reaches six million doses administered by the end of August – 50 per cent of the adult population in the state.
“That gives us a chance to see what people can do in September and October, but it is really important to ensure we provide the vaccine, targeted strategy to reduce the spread especially amongst key worker groups,” she said.
Rules to be tightened to stop spread to regions
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said NSW Police is investigating any potential breaches after a man who travelled to the Byron Shire region later tested positive for COVID-19, triggering a snap lockdown.
Byron Shire Mayor Michael Lyon claims the man went to look for property while potentially infectious and did not use QR codes to check in during his stay.
“The police are looking extremely closely what he was doing in that area,” Mr Hazzard said. “I trust the police will be able to take appropriate action in due course.”
He said the state’s legal department is looking at tightening any loopholes on attending housing inspections in the regions.
“It is challenging. I have said to the legal department to tighten it up as far as possible… What does worry me is you can’t legislate against stupidity, arrogance and entitlement,” he said.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the role of police is critical in decreasing compliance gaps and limiting the movement of people.
“My public health advice is that we need to put in a further look at how we can stop people going into the regions,” she said.
Dr Chant aid the evidence on curfews is not strong, and she is directing police to limit the density of people in shops.
“If there was a simple silver bullet, that would be the case. But from my public health perspective, I’m not happy that the case numbers are increasing and we certainly need to do all we can.”
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said additional officers and ADF support would be used to “ratchet up compliance”.
“The way that we get to that, the quickest, is that people abide by the public health orders themselves,” he said.
“What we are seeing is people making conscious decisions to go outside, to contravene the public health orders at a risk to themselves and the community.”
Mandatory vaccinations considered for health workers
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the state government is working with unions of health workers to implement compulsory vaccinations for the sector.
“My view is that is that if you work in health care or aged care, you should be vaccinated – absolutely,” he said.
He said the state government would assist the federal government in its push for a September deadline to deliver a mandatory first dose for aged care staff.
But he said the focus of the state government is on ensuring higher uptake of vaccinations. The remarks come after two partially vaccinated nurses became infected with COVID-19 in the Liverpool Hospital outbreak.
“I believe that if you want to work inside a health facility, if you want to care for patients, you should be vaccinated,” Mr Hazzard said.
“This particular virus is extremely dangerous. And there are precedents for compulsory or mandatorily required vaccines in other areas, so I’ve asked NSW Health to work with the unions.”
‘More children infected’
There are 357 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 60 people in intensive care.
Dr Chant said health officials are closely tracking the impact of the Delta variant in children, compared to the alpha variant in the first wave.
“Certainly we have seen more children infected … We are seeing more childcare centre outbreaks and that children are spreading the virus in these outbreaks,” she said.
Two schools and another apartment block added to exposure site list
It comes as the list of exposure sites has expanded to include Sydney’s Bondi Beach Public School and Shortland Public School in Newcastle.
Another apartment block in Sydney’s west has been put into lockdown after COVID-19 cases were detected.
Residents in the Astina apartments in Penrith are being deemed closed contacts. All visitors to the complex over three days last week are being urged to get tested and isolate for a fortnight.
Dr Chant said that ADF personnel have been brought in to help contact tracing teams respond to the increased workload.
“Case numbers are increasing and obviously that stresses all parts of the system: both the operational health aspects of the system and our contact tracers. However, we have scaled,” she said.
She urged people to come forward early for testing as contact tracers were being delayed by cases who had been infectious for “upwards of eight days” before getting tested.
“If we can have people coming forward at the earliest symptoms for getting tested, that will also help us,” she said.
SBS is providing live translations of daily NSW COVID-19 press conferences in Arabic, Assyrian, Cantonese, Khmer, Mandarin and Vietnamese. You can stream those live translations at SBS Arabic24, SBS Assyrian, SBS Cantonese, SBS Chinese, SBS Khmer, and SBS Vietnamese Facebook pages.