The Australian Medical Association has called for Sydney’s lockdown to be extended across the entire city, as new stay-at-home rules announced by the New South Wales government sparked uncertainty among residents and businesses on Friday.
As the Bondi outbreak grew to 65 cases, the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced on Friday that four local government areas (LGAs) – Woollahra, Randwick, Waverley and the City of Sydney – would enter a week-long lockdown.
The rules mean anyone in those areas can leave the home for only four reasons: shopping for food or other essential items; medical or compassionate needs; exercise in groups of 10 or fewer; and essential work or education.
“Anyone who has worked part-time or permanently in the four hotspots in the past two weeks are subject to stay-at-home orders,” Berejiklian said. “It doesn’t matter where you live. If you’ve worked in those four local government areas, you’re subject to the orders.”
Dr Omar Khorshid, the head of the Australian Medical Association, called on Berejiklian to lock down all of greater Sydney, saying the rules were “confusing for many people in Sydney”.
“What we really need are clear rules for all Sydneysiders that say: stay at home so we can get ahead of this virus and stop further transmission,” he said on Friday.
The wording of the government’s announcement, coupled with local government boundaries that run down the middle of some major Sydney roads, immediately led to a new kind of outbreak: confusion.
Residents were unclear whether the rule also applied to those who live with people affected by the order, or had visited those areas for purposes other than work.
Privately, government officials seemed to concede the rules would be open to some interpretation. Speaking on background, a NSW Health source told the Guardian the rules for people outside the four LGAs did not only apply to “work” but anyone who “regularly” visited the four areas, or had spent a “significant” amount of time in the areas since 12 June.
The source said there was “no hard and fast rule” about what was meant by “regular”, but that someone who worked three or four days a week in one of the LGAs should consider that the stay-at-home order applied to them.
They used the example of a university student who had visited a campus in the City of Sydney three or more times since 12 June as someone to whom the orders would apply.
It was less clear what that would mean for people who had visited those areas less frequently.
“There will be a level of common sense that has to apply if they’re working less than, say, three days a week in one of the LGAs,” the source said. “Obviously coming in for just a couple of different reasons or for a small amount of time does not count.”
For example, if someone living in the Inner West council area visited the Sydney CBD for an optometrist appointment, or a lunch, at some point since 12 June, but had kept outside the lockdown areas since then, they would not have to observe the orders.
“If you don’t live in one of the four LGAs but live with someone who must observe the stay-at-home orders, you do not have to observe the orders too,” the source said.
Korshid said: “Our concern with the current announcement is that it is confusing for many people in Sydney. If you work in the CBD but live outside of it, we know if you contract the disease you are going to give it to your family. This is happening with the Delta virus in Sydney right now. But the rules don’t apply – as far as we can see – to family.
“There is also confusion as to who is in and who is out. An alternative and what the AMA believes will be the right move is a lockdown of the Sydney basin; everyone doing the same thing, the same rules for everyone. If we do that it would let the government get ahead of the virus and give the contact tracers a chance to catch up.”
The situation was not immediately clarified by the health minister, Brad Hazzard, who tweeted on Friday afternoon that weddings, funerals and community sport could continue inside the four LGAs, even though they did not obviously fall within the four essential reasons for leaving home. Many community sport organisations, including in areas outside the four LGAs, had already decided to cancel all matches for the weekend.
Businesses in King Street – the busy bar and dining strip in Newtown – were scrambling to understand their status on Friday, as the boundary between City of Sydney council and Inner West council (not subject to the lockdown) runs down the middle of the main thoroughfare.
It meant the difference between staying open and closing was in some cases a matter of metres. Will Bromley, a barman at the Irish pub Kelly’s on King, on the Inner West side, said it would remain open. The pub is only a block away from where the line between the two LGAs cuts away toward neighbouring Camperdown.
“I’m pouring a beer right now,” he said. “We haven’t been told any different. We’re on the left hand side as you look down to the city and we’re Inner West. The right hand side is Sydney. So we’re literally on the border.
“It seems a bit ridiculous. We have workers who live in Erskineville on the red side, but apparently we’re classed as an essential business, so they can still come to work.”
On the other side of the road, the well-known inner west restaurant Thai Pothong will be forced to close.
“We will still open for takeaway and delivery, but we have to follow the rules,” manager Nick said.
“We can’t do anything. Of course it will affect the business a lot but we have to follow the rules and accept it. We care about society and our people too.”