“Christmas is only three days away and we need to observe the next few, really crucial days. New Year’s Eve, there is more time for,” Professor Bennett said on Tuesday.
“I do think it’s probably unlikely for Victoria to open to Greater Sydney this year, given the extent of this and the number of exposure sites. But if we hear in the coming days that the vast majority of cases are still only in the northern beaches, that might change things. If there are 20 active cases across all of greater Sydney, that would be too risky.”
Mr Foley refused to say whether Victoria could ease its border restrictions before Christmas, for example by restoring Greater Sydney to an “orange zone”, from which people can enter but must be tested on arrival. But he warned Victoria remained in “a really serious position”.
“There are many, many exposure sites in Sydney that have seen many, many people come to Melbourne from those exposure sites beyond the northern beaches. So this is not over by a long shot,” Mr Foley said on Tuesday morning.
“This will go for some time and, as we know with how this thing incubates, this might well extend beyond the northern beaches.”
On Tuesday afternoon a Health Department spokeswoman said: “Further advice on border restrictions will be made when appropriate.”
Victoria recorded its first new case outside hotel quarantine in 53 days on Tuesday – a teenage girl who contracted COVID-19 in the northern beaches area before driving to Melbourne on December 18. Testing chief Jeroen Weimar said about 300 people in Victoria had been identified as close contacts of the Sydney outbreak and were in self-isolation.
“We expect over the coming days, as more of those returning Victorians from yesterday get themselves tested and contact us, that that number will grow,” he said.
Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases expert with Canberra’s Australian National University, said exposure sites from December 17 and 18 in NSW suggested new cases of community transmission could emerge around Christmas.
He said he doubted NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian would lift tight restrictions on the northern beaches at the initially slated time of midnight on Wednesday, which in turn would discourage states such as Victoria from lifting their border rules before Christmas.
“If we have really favourable figures in the first few days after Christmas and NSW lifts some rules, it might be around that time that other states could consider their border rules,” Associate Professor Senanayake said.
“There haven’t been any unlinked cases, positively. That said, we have seen every state and territory respond to outbreaks fairly conservatively throughout the year.”
He said authorities would probably be particularly cautious because people will mingle in groups on New Year’s Eve, increasing the chance of “super-spreader” events.
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Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.