'Insular peninsula': Will Sydney cluster lead to Melbourne-style lockdown?

The NSW government’s quicker response to a rise in coronavirus cases will likely prevent a devastating second wave akin to Melbourne’s, a leading expert says.

However there are still fears the virus has unknowingly spread throughout the Sydney area, throwing festive plans of millions up in the air.

Epidemiologist at the University of NSW Mary-Louise McLaws told the ABC Victoria allowed the virus to fester for several weeks before a localised lockdown was implemented on July 1 at 72 new daily cases.

"The numbers were in what I would call the amber and red zone, basically five or more cases a day," she said, referencing a traffic light system she uses which indicates whether a restrictions are necessary.

However NSW opted for restricting the movements of 250,000 people on the fourth day of what has so far largely been an isolated outbreak of 83 cases in the northern section of the Northern Beaches.

Experts are calling for the Northern Beaches to be shut off from the rest of Sydney. Source:
The Northern Beaches and Sydney face a anxious wait as Christmas edges closer. Source: AAP

And while Prof McLaws told Yahoo News Australia she would have opted for a 14-day strict ring fencing of the suburb, she believes the state government will have no option but to implement a gathering restriction in the Northern Beaches when the current lockdown ends on Wednesday.

Prof McLaws praised the proactive contact tracers of NSW who have been repeatedly applauded by the NSW and federal governments as the “gold standard” when it comes to sniffing out unknown infection within the community.

Yet Prof McLaws said we do not yet have clear information on whether considerable seeding had taken place in the greater community.

“The horse may have already bolted if the greater community has begun seeding and creating secondary generations,” she warned.

Insular peninsula helps contain spread

There is also a sense of fortune surrounding the outbreak thanks to its geographical location.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard has repeatedly reminded Avalon is nestled near the northern tip of the peninsula – an area newly-appointed federal chief medical officer Paul Kelly grew up in.

“That part of the Northern Beaches is quite insular, actually, they tend to stay where they are in that peninsula,” Professor Kelly told reporters on Monday.

Moments earlier Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the peninsula is a “very cohesive community that tends to keep to itself”.

With limited transport routes out of the area paired with high levels of cooperation from Northern Beaches residents, there is hope daily cases will continue to trend down after they halved in size from 30 to 15 on Monday.

Monday’s confirmed cases came from an impressive 38,500 tests.

New Covid locations added to growing list

However Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned on Monday the outbreak is far from over with Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant concerned over potential seeding in the Greater Sydney area.

She warned several venues were of particular concern, including the Rose of Australia Hotel in the city’s Inner West, where a second case was now linked.

Five coronavirus cases have also been linked to Turramurra Salon for Hair on Sydney's north shore.

“What we're concerned about is we've had seeding events where people have gone from being exposed in the northern beaches and gone back to other parts of the CBD, south-eastern Sydney, the broader northern Sydney area, Penrith," she said.

Ms Berejiklian refused to comment on whether Christmas gatherings would be allowed as NSW Health face a race against time to confidently approve meet ups not only in the Northern Beaches but across the city.

Overnight a raft of locations across Sydney were added to a list of places where people may have come into contact with confirmed cases from the Avalon cluster, which now stands at 83 cases.

A list of those locations can be found here.

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