Blaring horns filled the city air after severe restrictions were announced by the NSW premier on Saturday.
While most private businesses have been locked down for weeks, hundreds of truck drivers took to the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Anzac Bridge in protest after transport workers in Covid hot spots were banned from travelling to work.
The sudden change in the lockdown rules threw the transport industry into chaos.
The ambiguous announcement on Saturday created fear that general transport workers would no longer be classed as ‘essential’, threatening to cause a major break in the state’s infrastructure and basic services.
Under the new rules, workers in Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown, and Liverpool would be unable to travel for essential business if their place of work is outside their local health district. Healthcare, emergency service workers, and aged care staff are the only exemptions.
This was corrected later, where it was made clear that those involved in the operation of food transport, warehouse transport, and distribution would be exempt from the ban.
The protest went ahead while further clarification was requested by representatives of the ARTIO NSW and TWU NSW, who remain concerned about the status of taxis, rideshare drivers, bus drivers, and aviation transport.
“We welcome the exemption which reflects the essential work done by transport workers, but we require urgent clarification that all transport workers, including those providing critical passenger transport, air freight and waste removal services, will not face penalties for going to work,” said Richard Olsen, the Transport Workers’ Union NSW Secretary.
He was hoping that the NSW government would follow Victoria’s example and classify transport as an essential service.
“Without this clarification, we will see waste piling up in our streets, passengers stranded at bus stops and freight left unattended at airports.”
“The snap announcement today is further evidence of a rushed policy change, which severely overlooked the essential nature of transport.”
One thing remains certain, the construction industry has been put on hold with less than 48 hours to make the necessary arrangements to secure sites before a two week closure ending July 30.
"It's been a scramble, just trying to figure out how we were going to manage. It’s really just racing to get the roof on, if we can possibly do it; and then if not, we have to come up with some other solution,” tradesman Nick Abraham told SBS.
This forms part of the premier's tougher lockdown stance designed to stop the spread of the Delta variant.
NSW recorded 111 local cases and the death of a man in his late 80s before the premier’s announcement. 18 people remain in intensive care.
Cost estimates for the lockdown range between $800 million and $2 billion a week, though no one appears to know what the true figure is.
“We don't underestimate the impact this has on our businesses…but what is really important for us is to give business every chance to bounce back. We might not see the impact of these additional restrictions for five to seven days at least, but we do know they will have an impact, and that is what we need.” said NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
Any business that attempts to operate that is not essential faces a fine of $10,000.