New South Wales has moved to relax some restrictions on gatherings, weddings and mask wearing in greater Sydney after the state went 10 days without locally acquired coronavirus cases.
From Friday morning, households in greater Sydney will be allowed to have up to 30 visitors, including children, up from the current maximum of five visitors, while 50 people will be allowed to gather outdoors.
Face masks will no longer be mandatory for retail workers or for people shopping, but must still be worn on public transport, in places of worship and beauty and hairdressing salons. Hospitality workers will also need to continue wearing masks.
Weddings and funerals will be allowed to host 300 guests, so long as they comply with the 4 sq metre rule
The NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian also flagged that the one person per 4 sq metre limit which has constrained hospitality venues’ capacity would likely be eased in two weeks to allow one person per 2 sq metres.
“We’re sending this message out today so that businesses can be prepared,” she said. “So that businesses can know that in a couple of weeks’ time they will feel increased trade and be able to plan for the year ahead.”
The premier said the government was waiting for south-west and western Sydney to complete two 14-day cycles without community transmission to ensure “we’ve ticked all health boxes”.
“Unfortunately, we have to live with this for the foreseeable future.”
The premier also indicated the government would strictly enforce the rules.
“Do we need to increase fines to make sure businesses are being as vigilant as ever? Because our strategy will only work if people do the right thing. What we’re trying to prevent is a superspreader event.”
The announcement came after NSW recorded its 10th consecutive day of zero community transmission, although authorities remained concerned about low testing numbers.
There were 9,723 tests conducted in the 24 hours to 8pm Tuesday, a slight increase on Monday’s figure. The NSW deputy chief health officer, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said testing needed to increase to prevent outbreaks.
“The continuing low testing numbers is a concern as the virus may still be circulating in the community.”
The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, echoed the call for more tests, particularly in western and south-western Sydney.
“We want to ensure that there are no undetected chains of transmission. Our focus is particularly on western Sydney and south-western Sydney. So, as a special callout to those communities, please come forward for testing. That will allow us to block any unrecognised chains of transmission.”
Chant said she was “confident” the Avalon cluster had been brought under control, and hoped she could say the same for western Sydney in the coming weeks.
“We’re confident that that outbreak has now been brought under control but we do need your ongoing assistance in ensuring that there are no transmission related to the Berala cluster, and for us the most focused area is south-western and western Sydney.”
As Sydneysiders returned to work and school, Berejiklian congratulated her government on its “balanced” approach, and welcomed traffic in Sydney as indications of things returning to a relative normal.
“Traffic has picked up. Who would have thought we would welcome traffic being picked up! But it is a sign people are coming back.”
She encouraged workplaces to make their own decisions on whether to return to offices, but said she hoped some workplaces would consider returning to normal in light of the eased restrictions.
“We do want people to think about coming back to work if it’s in the Sydney CBD or the Parramatta CBD or wherever it may be, because that will give people a sense of safety,” Berejiklian said.
NSW Health had earlier announced that sewage surveillance had reported recently detected fragments of the virus that causes Covid-19 at the Liverpool treatment plant, which was an indication that Covid is possibly still circulating in the area.
Authorities are urging everyone living or working around Liverpool to monitor for symptoms and get tested and isolate immediately if they appear.