Under a public health order effective from Monday, household gatherings in greater Sydney were reduced to 10 visitors, a cap of 300 people was placed on hospitality venues and places of worship. Indoor venues also moved back to a four-square-metre capacity rule.
The rules, as well as the northern beaches lockdown, will be reviewed on Wednesday.
Dr Stanaway said Sydneysiders should take precautions beyond those legislated in the health order, such as not going out to hospitality venues and wearing masks on public transport.
ANU Associate Professor Senjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases physician, said masks should be made mandatory in Sydney in indoor areas and on public transport.
“It think that’s really a no brainer now,” he said. “If [the government] thinks it’s an important measure they should make it mandatory.”
Speaking on Sunrise on Monday morning, the president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Omar Khorshid, said he thought Sydneysiders should have to wear masks.
“We see Sydney people doing the right thing, they’re out and about with their masks on, but it’s a really unambiguous message if you say to the community ‘look, you’ve got to wear your masks. It’s mandatory, everyone’s going to do it, let’s all do it together’,” he said.
In an opinion piece for The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, UNSW epidemiologist Raina MacIntyre also called for mandatory masks, noting they would be most useful at the start of an outbreak.
Asked about the issue on Monday, Dr Chant said uptake of masks, particularly on the northern beaches, had been high but would continue to be monitored.
The NSW Rail, Tram and Bus Union’s Tram and Bus Division has also urged the government to make masks on buses and trams mandatory when passengers can’t physically distance from one another.
Last Monday, Transport Minister Andrew Constance said as few as one in eight people were wearing masks on public transport, with about one in 20 services exceeding social distancing requirements each day.
However, patronage on Sydney’s public transport network declined heavily over the weekend, down close to 60 per cent compared to the same time last year. A week earlier on 13 December, the network had been operating only 35 per cent lower to the previous year.
Trips on B-Line bus services, which operate from the city’s northern beaches to the CBD, declined by more than 90 per cent on Sunday, with just 400 trips taken, while Manly ferry trips were down a similar amount.
Dr Stanaway said government messaging on recommended behaviours could be stronger, particularly when case numbers were low.
“People respond to their current perceived risk: so, when perceived risk is really high, like now, you see everyone wearing masks in the shops and on public transport but a couple of weeks ago, because people thought we’d cracked it, they stopped doing that,” she said.
Associate Professor Senanayake and Dr Stanaway agreed there was no epidemiological basis for only locking the northern beaches down until Wednesday.
“I think if Christmas wasn’t there they would have done a longer one,” Dr Stanaway said, although she believed it was “reasonable” to wait to see how the numbers progressed this week.
“I don’t think they will stop the lockdown if it’s not safe, regardless of Christmas.”
Associate Professor Senanayake said it was “extremely unlikely” measures would be reduced on Wednesday.
“I think it was probably because of the emotive stakes: with Christmas Day and Christmas Eve coming up,” he said, adding further cases outside of the northern beaches should be responded to with greater restrictions across Sydney.
Mary Ward is a health reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Tom Rabe is Transport Reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.