NSW continues to report a rise in Covid cases, prompting the government to consider harsher lockdown rules.
Speaking at a press conference on Sunday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said that one woman in her 90s had died and 77 new cases had been added to the total. On Monday, the state recorded an additional 112 new cases.
Berejiklian has repeated her previous statement that the government is chasing a Covid-zero approach, with no intention of lifting the lockdown until cases have dropped to ‘almost nothing’.
“Everybody can tell it’s highly unlikely at this stage, given where the numbers are,” said Berejiklian, when asked if the lockdown would be lifted on Friday as planned. “We’ve always been upfront about that. I’ve always said we need that exposure number to be as close to zero as possible so we’re confident that we haven’t missed any chains of transmission.”
Sydney’s lockdown restrictions are already severe, with only a single person able to leave the house each day for essential shopping and exercise restricted to two people within a 10km radius of their homes. The retail sector of the city is all but closed, with the cost of the pandemic triggering high level talks between business representatives and the government.
Without Jobkeeper, there has been pressure on the federal government to provide economic assistance to individuals and businesses unable to work due to the lockdown. Scott Morrison confirmed Covid disaster relief assistance of $325 and $500 emergency payments for those within the designated Covid hot spots, provided they had less than $10,000 worth of assets.
The liquid asset condition would be waived at the third week of lockdown.
“It doesn’t matter what funds you’ve got available to you in your bank account or what you can readily convert to cash,” said Morrison, in a change from the original announcement in June.
Small businesses required to pay salaried staff while remaining closed under health orders are of greatest risk of shutting down permanently.
Health policy consultant Bill Bowtell, who is also the Adjunct Professor at UNSW, has been among those calling for even harsher restrictions.
“Big retailers that are not providing essential goods and services [like Bunnings and Kmart] should not be open. The police have a lot more to do than stand outside essential retailers checking bags for shopping,” said Bowtell, on ABC News Breakfast. “If you want to stop the virus, who should be outside those retailers are health workers testing the staff and their customers as they come and go for Covid. Now, let’s get real That’s what’s got to happen.”
Bowtell also referred to Victoria as a ‘gold standard state’ despite Victoria recording both the worst economic impact and the highest death toll of 820 compared to 55 in New South Wales, 7 in Queensland, 9 in Western Australia, and 4 in South Australia.
Epidemiologist Tony Blakely went a step further and suggested that Sydney should look at deploying troops and police to patrol the streets.
“It’s very hard to say those words: ‘We’re going into a hard lockdown, we’ve called in the military, the police and we are going to police it,’” Blakely told news.com.au “It’s not a pretty look but if you want it to be over and done with as quickly as possible that, most unfortunately, is what needs to happen.”
In response to Sydney’s Covid cluster, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has issued a warning to her state’s citizens.
“However, my message to Queenslanders is if you are in those areas, come home. I can’t be any clearer. We aren’t imposing any further restrictions at this stage. But I am giving everyone notice that we are monitoring this incredible closely.”
“Please, even if you are in regional parts of NSW, we are monitoring that very closely and things can change. My message to Queenslanders is to think seriously, long and hard, about what you are doing and if you can, come home.”
This suggests that Queensland may be planning to close the border with New South Wales.
If this happens, it would add to a complex mix of hard and soft borders across Australia. Western Australia and South Australia only allow Australian residents from New South Wales and Queensland to enter if they have an exemption. They then face a mandatory 14 day quarantine.
South Australia has also imposed a hard border with the ACT, prompting ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr to complain on Social Media that there was no justification to include Canberra in the travel restrictions.
“Canberra is not part of Greater Sydney. At this time, there is very little justification to consider the ACT as a Covid-affected jurisdiction that requires the highest level of travel restrictions. We are asking all states to remove the restrictions on the ACT as soon as possible.”