Ms Berejiklian warned she expected “as many, if not more” new cases to be announced Sunday.
About 275,000 residents in the Northern Beaches local government area, from the Spit Bridge to Palm Beach, were placed into lockdown at 5pm Saturday and banned from leaving their homes except for work, exercise, essential shopping and compassionate reasons.
They are the same restrictions that applied when the pandemic hit in March, and fines of $1100 apply for breaching the rules. The localised lockdown is in place until Wednesday night.
The Sydney to Hobart yacht race looks certain to be called off or postponed after the Tasmanian government imposed a 14-day quarantine requirement on all travellers from greater Sydney.
The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia is yet to make an official decision but the worsening COVID-19 outbreak has put about 150 sailors into lockdown on the northern beaches.
As residents rushed to leave Sydney, Victorian officials convened a meeting on Saturday night to discuss a possible hard border closure with NSW. Earlier in the day, the state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said closure was “in play”.
Queensland is mandating border passes for all NSW residents entering the state from 1am Sunday and requiring anyone from greater Sydney and the central coast to get a COVID test on arrival and isolate until they receive their result.
Meanwhile, a number of epidemiologists criticised the NSW government over its course of action. Raina MacIntyre, head of the Kirby Institute’s biosecurity program, said the five-day lockdown in the northern beaches may not be enough.
“We saw in Melbourne they tried a targeted lockdown in particular suburbs where the outbreak seemed to be clustered but it had already spread,” she told The Sun-Herald. “It doesn’t bode well.”
Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said he was concerned the NSW government was too reliant on its “gold standard” contact tracing system at the expense of measures such as social distancing and mandatory masks.
“I have been saying the same mantra over the years: go hard and go fast. And this is not hard or fast,” he said.
Adrian Esterman, an epidemiologist at the University of South Australia, said the NSW government was being selfish by not introducing stricter measures in its response to the outbreak, describing those introduced to date as “wishy-washy”.
Ms Berejiklian flagged that one restriction that could be imposed in Sydney was to revert to the “one person per four square metres” rule at venues, instead of one person per two square metres.
Preliminary genome sequencing confirmed the virus strain circulating on the beaches was imported from the United States. Virus samples from the Avalon cluster came close to matching a sample in a woman who flew into Sydney on December 1.
But health authorities still don’t know how the virus was introduced to the northern beaches and all avenues of investigations are ongoing.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the “vast majority” of cases were linked to two venues: the Avalon Beach RSL and the Avalon Bowling Club. But an Anytime Fitness gym in Avalon emerged as another key venue after an infectious person attended five times over the past fortnight.
“It is really important that people understand that this is a moving feast and we need to reassess continually,” Dr Chant said.
On Saturday evening NSW Health issued alerts for a number of venues, including anyone who attended Sunset Diner at Avalon Beach on Friday December 11 from 6.30pm to 8pm – who should get tested and isolate for 14 days even if they receive a negative result.
A number of other venue alerts are available on the NSW Health website.
In the hours before the northern beaches lockdown, residents were dispirited but resigned to their fate. “I think we try and nip it in the bud,” said Fairlight resident Eileen Condell.
Kerry Baxter from Manly had to cancel plans to host her extended family for Christmas on Sunday. “I’m eating my way through a fridge full of food,” she said.
Meanwhile, despite the Premier’s pleas to avoid unnecessary trips outside, there was a hive of activity at the Colisum Theatre at West HQ – formerly known as Rooty Hill RSL – on Saturday afternoon as concerts by The Wiggles attracted thousands of families from across the state.
Six back-to-back Christmas shows were held across Friday and Saturday. Some parents took to social media to vent their shock and disappointment after turning up to find no temperature checking in place and little social distancing.
Victoria and Queensland will join NSW in introducing government-run quarantine hotels solely for air crews that arrive from overseas, while Queensland is championing a push for mandatory testing of air crews at least every seven days.
The latest developments in rules governing international air crews emerged during a meeting of chief health officers from all states and territories late Saturday afternoon.
A source with knowledge of the meeting said a proposal was also made to allow local air crews on Qantas repatriation flights to return to their home states on arrival and isolate at home for 14 days or whenever their next flight is.
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Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Lucy Cormack is a state political reporter with The
Sydney Morning Herald.
Aisha Dow reports on health for The Age and is a former city reporter.