The prospect of tougher Covid restrictions for parts of Sydney loom – but it might already be too late.
On Wednesday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagged the potential for harsher measures in certain local government areas in order to tackle the Delta coronavirus outbreak in the state.
"We have seen overnight some concerning statistics on what is happening in the Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown and Liverpool council areas," she said.
"The NSW Government doesn't want to go to the next stage but we are considering if there are any further actions we need to take in those three local government areas."
Infectious disease expert Professor Raina MacIntyre believes it is likely too late for such measures.
Speaking to ABC News Breakfast on Thursday morning, she delivered a bleak prognosis for the country's biggest city.
"I think it's spread all over Sydney now," she said.
"So I think it's probably too late to be looking at targeted geographic measures. If you're going to go harder, it has to be across the Metropolitan area."
Prof MacIntyre, from the Kirby Institute of UNSW, said sewage monitoring programs could help authorities spot where the virus was hiding in the community but targeted measures would likely prove futile at this stage.
"[Sewage monitoring] can give an early signal if it is starting to spread into other communities. But the spread of it is so wide that I think it may not be enough to do a targeted increase," she told the program.
Sydney – and the rest of the country – face a difficult period in the months ahead as the nation waits for vaccine supplies to arrive. And what's been described as Australia's Covid purgatory has left us particularly susceptible to the Delta outbreak.
"I think for Australia, for New South Wales, [community spread] is a different proposition to countries that have high vaccination rates and high levels of disease," Prof MacIntyre said.
"We've got virtually no immunity in the community because very few people have been fully vaccinated and very few people have been infected. So we are absolutely susceptible."
Dire warning not to 'throw it all away'
On Wednesday, Health Minister Brad Hazzard caused a stir with comments suggesting the extra week of lockdown might not be sufficient to contain the latest outbreak.
If people don't adhere to the public health measures, "we’re going to have to accept that the virus has a life that will continue in the community", he foreshadowed.
While that will be the eventual outcome, it is now a desperate race to get the population vaccinated before it happens on any large scale.
"If we let it spread in Sydney, it would impact the whole country and we could end up with a situation like we saw in India in March and April," Prof MacIntyre said.
"We can't afford to relax until we've got the vaccination rates high. We've only got about three months to wait before this vaccine supplies become adequate, and it would be really risky to throw it all away without waiting."
Authorities at NSW Health have warned they expected to see daily cases rise again on Thursday with Ms Berejiklian saying the next week of lockdown will determine how the state lives until the vaccine rollout eventually ramps up.
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