New South Wales will set up walk-in clinics for AstraZeneca vaccine shots in south-west and western Sydney, particularly for essential workers, as the premier Gladys Berejiklian foreshadowed the strict lockdown would continue but with some possible changes.
Among announcements to come in the following days are what parents can expect regarding schools in the future, a relaxation of rules for some parts of the construction industry – possibly based on regions – and the likely lifting of the stay-at-home orders for three central western regional councils.
But the premier and the chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, also gave clear hints that the strict lockdown would continue for some weeks in NSW as the state recorded its second-highest day of infections of Covid-19.
There were 145 cases of Covid-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm Sunday but worryingly at least 76 of these were infectious in the community.
Fifty-eight cases were in isolation throughout their infectious period, 51 were in the community for the entirety of their infectious period, and 25 cases were in isolation for part of their infectious period. The isolation status of 11 cases remains under investigation.
NSW Health was also responding to an infectious healthcare worker who was at Liverpool hospital who worked while infectious. Urgent patient testing was under way and more information was expected later on Monday.
“Our single-minded focus at the moment is getting the burden of infectious cases down in the community,” Chant said.
“We need to break the back of this and we can do that by a number of ways. One, follow the requirements to stay at home and do not move between households, however tempting it is to think I am just visiting a friend,” she said.
The other strategy is to make vaccinating vulnerable people in the community including essential workers a priority, she said.
“We are very keen to provide access to those critical workers that are required to keep Sydney running,” she said.
“At this point in time, vaccinations are not the whole answer, and we need to maintain the lockdown as tight as possible,” she said.
Berejiklian made it clear the health advice would lead her thinking.
She stressed households and workplaces were still the main places for transmission but noted that mobility data showed people were abiding by the rules in hotpsots such as Fairfield.
“There is no doubt some restrictions have better effect than others and that is the advice we will get from our health experts, as well as in consultation with other officials,” she said.
The premier seemed to rule out curfews, which have been used in Victoria. She also denied that the government had made already made a decision that schools were not returning to face-to-face teaching until term four.
But with several cases among school-aged children, Chant cautioned against returning to face-to-face teaching.
“With the previous strains, we didn’t see children impacted. We are seeing a young age cohort impacted down to very young babies. Therefore, that is the basis of why we recommended that school not go back to face-to-face learning,” she said.
“I would urge anyone: schools are only open for the most essential and if you can avoid sending children to school, that is an appropriate response. That is the basis of our advice that with such levels of community transmission, we couldn’t have face-to-face teaching,” she said.
On Tuesday the government will announce the locations of walk-in clinics that will administer AstraZeneca shots.
Chant said the local area health districts had been working over the weekend with community leaders to identify suitable sites that may be appropriate for walk-in visits, which are likely to focus on vaccinating workers in high-exposure essential workplaces such as supermarkets, pharmacies and medical practices.
“What are the most vulnerable communities, which groups in the communities don’t have access to the vaccine, and how can we make it easier to get vaccinated? That work has been going on day and night over the weekend and there will be some announcements tomorrow,” she said.
Berejiklian said they would be “careful about how we distribute Pfizer” because of the limited supply, and that she would continue to urge national cabinet to boost the supply in NSW.
There is, however, likely to be good news for the Orange, Blayney and Cabonne regions which were sent into as lockdown last week after a truck driver infected a worker at a local pet food factory.
“There was no ongoing transmission associated with that event,” Chant said. “That strategy will be one of the considerations for any future rural detections or cases,” she said.
She said high levels of testing, the fact that labour was sourced locally and that movements of critical workers from Sydney were reduced, had been critical strategies.
There are still concerns about Ballina in northern NSW, where fragments of the virus have been detected in sewage, as well as around Moss Vale in the southern highlands, where there have been similar detections.
The NSW police commissioner, Mick Fuller, warned the police were aware of internet discussion of a further protest this Saturday and would crack down hard if it went ahead.
“Can I just put this warning out now to everyone: we will be heavily policing that event. We will take the ground very early. You will be arrested and prosecuted,” he said.
“The community has spoken about that behaviour. The premier has spoken about that behaviour and it won’t be tolerated again,” he said.
In Victoria, authorities are expected to announce an easing of restrictions on Tuesday, after reporting two days in which all new cases were isolating for their entire infectious period.
Victoria recorded 11 new cases in the community on Monday all of which were quarantined for their entire infectious period and linked to earlier cases. They include two more linked to the Ms Frankie restaurant in Cremorne, bringing the cluster to 46.
Health minister Martin Foley told reporters on Monday that “nothing has yet been finalised” but that the state was “on the right track” to ease restrictions.
“We did clearly take some comfort from the fact that over the weekend, the 22 locally acquired cases had all been quarantining for the entirety of their infectious period, and presented no public health risk,” he said. “But it is still 22 cases, and when you reflect on where we have been over the journey of these last 18 months, as we have dealt with the reopening from outbreaks, 22 cases over two days is a significant figure.”
Foley said the contact tracing team would send police a file on the Sydney removalists, who sparked the outbreak by working in Melbourne while infectious in early July, imminently.
More than 21,000 people are still quarantining, but large cohorts – including the remainder of those in the Ariele apartments – are due to leave quarantine in the next few days, pending a negative test.
There are currently five people in Victoria in hospital, two in intensive care, and one on a ventilator. The outbreak stands at 179 people – down from 180 after one person has recovered.