Masks compulsory on Sydney public transport after new ‘fleeting contact’ case

·6 min read
<span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

Face masks will be mandatory on public transport in Sydney for at least five days, as New South Wales scrambles to prevent the eastern suburbs cluster from growing.

The announcement of the mandate came as the state recorded another locally acquired case, a man in his 50s who was on the same floor of the Westfield Bondi Junction Myer as the initial case on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Queensland has declared the eastern suburbs council area of Waverley, in Sydney, a hotspot from 1am Saturday, meaning visitors from that area will be made to undergo hotel quarantine.

Related: NSW and ACT Covid-19 exposure sites: map of Sydney hotspots and list of Canberra coronavirus case location alerts

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian also urged residents in her state to wear face masks indoors, including at supermarkets, cinemas and gyms.

The Sydney outbreak comes as federal health authorities conceded the new advice that AstraZeneca is not preferred for 50 to 59 year olds will result in a “short term” slowdown in Australia’s vaccination rollout.

At a press conference in Canberra, the head of the rollout, lieutenant general John Frewen, claimed Australia would see a “temporary reduction” in daily vaccinations caused by people rescheduling bookings to get Pfizer at a later date but delays would pass as GP access to Pfizer increases.

Authorities are concerned that the changed AstraZeneca advice is causing cancelled bookings among those 60 and over and those who have had a first dose, both groups who are still advised to receive AstraZeneca.

Asked if those who cancel bookings for a second dose against medical advice should go to the back of the queue, the health minister Greg Hunt signalled there would be no penalty.

“Our goal is not to be punitive, to be supportive of Australians, and to say that we want everybody to be vaccinated,” he told reporters.

Hunt also announced a new Medicare item to reimburse doctors to spend more time with patients to help explain the benefits of Covid-19 vaccines.

Earlier, at the press conference in Sydney, Berejiklian said “for the next five days we want everybody to wear masks on public transport to make sure that if the virus is circulating it doesn’t spread on public transport.”

“If you go to an indoor venue you wear a mask, whether it is a cinema, hospitality or frontline hospitality workers. It is not compulsory but we are recommending that especially if you cannot guarantee social distancing especially in those places around the eastern suburbs.”

The mask mandate will remain in place in Sydney until Wednesday 23 June, but does not extend to the Central Coast, Illawarra or the Wollongong areas.

The new case is the second person thought to have been infected by only “fleeting contact” with an infectious person, after a woman in her 70s tested positive on Thursday for only sitting outside a cafe the initial case had visited.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said the second case was worrying, especially if residents were not “religiously checking in”.

“My concern has gone up a little bit today because I am aware that transmission has occurred in a shopping centre and I understand that people may not have religiously checked in.”

Berejiklian was confident that the measures currently in place, as well as the introduction of mandated face masks on public transport, were enough to manage the risk the state faces.

“We feel the response we have outlined today is enough for the information we have today. If that changes, which is always the case, we have room to move.”

“We don’t want to move at this stage but we have room to move if the situation worsens or something unexpected happens.”

The total number of cases now linked to the eastern suburbs outbreak now stands at five, including a man deemed to have a low viral load. Authorities have not yet been able to work out if he is a false positive, so are treating him as a positive.

Berejiklian urged anyone in the eastern suburbs, especially those near exposure sites, to rethink their plans in the coming days, and to keep up to date with the latest health advice.

“I would rather ask people to be cautious for a few days and not attend events in that region rather than go further with restrictions more broadly.”

“If you are a casual contact please don’t go anywhere, cancel your plans. That is an extra precaution to make sure you don’t inadvertently cause harm to yourself or anybody else.”

Related: National Covid aged care plan did not exist before Coalition published ‘7th edition’ in late 2020

NSW Health said on Friday night it had confirmed transmission occurred between two patrons at the Myer store at Bondi Junction.

In updated advice, it said anyone who attended level two or four of Myer Bondi Junction on Saturday 12 June between 11.15am and 11.50am must call NSW Health on 1800 943 553, get tested and self-isolate for 14 days.

The same rules applied to people who were on level one of the Bondi Junction David Jones on Saturday 12 June between 10.55am and 11.15am.

It comes as acting Victorian premier James Merlino criticised the federal government’s vaccine rollout, saying the rollout was a race and that “we’re falling behind”.

“We don’t have, from the commonwealth, sufficient numbers of vaccines for second doses to match the demand for first doses.”

“That is a fact. That may well change later in the year but right now we are falling behind as a nation in this race.”

“I’ve acknowledged a number of times there are global supply constraints but the commonwealth has had well over a year to address these issues and provide greater levels of confidence to GPs around our nation, to state and territories in terms of our sites that we’re responsible for but we simply cannot meet the demand that is out there.”

Merlino did also express “cautious confidence” as the state recorded one new locally acquired case, linked to the existing Southbank cluster.

Victoria’s metropolitan border is due to be lifted at 11.59pm on Friday night, uniting the state once again. Residents in Melbourne will also be allowed two visitors per day, and that gatherings of up to 20 people will be allowed outside.

Merlino said the new case was already a close contact of a current case, and so was already in isolation, minimising the risk.

“Excellent progress is being made across all the outbreak areas with huge testing numbers, more than 35,000 yesterday. This gives us cautious confidence as we ease restrictions safely across the state from today.

“Staying Covid safe needs to be front of mind, not only for this weekend but also for the weeks and months ahead, until we get to a position where our vaccination rates as high as they can be.”

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