'Not a proper lockdown': Sydney's Covid measures under attack

The ABC's medical expert has slammed Sydney's lockdown measures after modelling shows tighter measures are needed to curb the Covid outbreak.

Speaking on ABC News Breakfast, Dr Norman Swan said Sydney's Covid lockdown could be prolonged until the end of this year.

"If it doesn't change, based on what happened in Victoria in the second wave, this could go on till Christmas," he said.

"It could go on for two, three months, or it could get out of control altogether. So, this is really serious in NSW, it's at a level which nobody has seen before in Australia."

He said given there's little clarity on what was deemed "essential" retail and people being allowed to travel for 10km for exercise during Sydney's lockdown, it was "not a proper lockdown".

Dr Norman Swan has criticised Sydney's lockdown.
Dr Norman Swan warned Sydney's lockdown could be extended for months if tougher restrictions aren't enforced. Source: ABC

Dr Swan pointed out the Delta strain is behind the outbreak in Sydney, which is much more infectious than the initial strain which devastated Victoria last year.

"These things are happening, it's going to get worse, the Delta is just a step along the way, the next variant will be worse than Delta," he said.

"We've just got to be flexible about our policies and also implement what we know is epidemiologically right, and that's not what is not happening in New South Wales."

Dr Swan referenced modelling from the Burnet Institute, which says stricter Stage 4 restrictions similar to those Victoria used last year are needed.

'Good News' for Sydney

Professor Margaret Hellard AM, the Burnet Institute Deputy Director and leading infectious diseases and public health specialist, said the restrictions in NSW were "approximately equivalent" to Victoria's Stage 3 restrictions from 2020.

She added the "good news" was NSW had room to tighten restrictions and Stage 4 restrictions used to curb Victoria's second wave would be sufficient to control the Delta outbreak in NSW.

“There is little doubt that whilst the current strategy of NSW Health has impacted on the course of the epidemic, including their stay-at-home measures, mask policy and trace and track interventions, our modelling indicates more is needed to stop this infectious Delta outbreak,” Prof Hellard said.

A man walks along the harbour opposite the Sydney Opera House.
Sydney's restrictions are not as tight as Victoria's Stage 4 restrictions which were introduced for part of late 2020. Source: AAP

The modelling shows if Stage 4 restrictions were in place now, the epidemic curve would sharply decline.

The Burnet Institute said it was difficult to determine when cases would drop to below five a day across a seven-day average, though a month is a likely timeframe with extra restrictions.

“Introducing more stringent measures like Victoria’s Stage 4-style restrictions would likely bring the outbreak under control and reduce the length of lockdown,” Burnet’s director and CEO Professor Brendan Crabb AC said.

The restrictions NSW enforced on July 9 differ greatly from Victoria's Stage Four restrictions, which were introduced in August 2020.

Victoria's Stage 4 restrictions included:

  • Masks in all public settings — indoors and outdoors

  • A travel radius of 5km

  • Exercise with one person for up to one hour

  • A curfew from 8pm to 5am

  • Cafes and restaurants offering take-away one (same as NSW), but food courts closed

  • Non-essential retail closed

  • Scaled back workplaces, with a strict list of business and industry

As of right now, NSW only enforces mask wearing indoors, travel is permitted up to 10km for exercise, there is no time limit of exercise or curfew, cafes and restaurants are takeaway only but food courts are open and non-essential retail is open, and work from home is advised if practical.

With 112 cases reported on Monday, and another 89 on Tuesday, it is almost certain Sydney's lockdown will extend well beyond this week.

"(I'm) not sure about longer than six weeks ... I think we're all certain it will extend beyond this week," Deputy Premier John Barilaro told Nine Network on Tuesday.

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