Why Sydney has avoided lockdown despite 21 Covid cases in cluster

·News Reporter
·3-min read

While an alarming increase of 10 locally acquired cases in Sydney on Tuesday was a poignant reminder of how easily the virus, particularly the highly-infectious Delta variant, can spread, Premier Gladys Berejiklian was reluctant to discuss the possibility of a lockdown.

And even though a cautious approach towards lockdowns has become synonymous to the NSW premier's approach to virus outbreaks, with Ms Berejiklian favouring economic stability over what she often believes as hasty decisions, it is in fact the makeup of the current cluster that has given her and the state's health team the confidence in their current level of instruction.

Melburnians were subject to a two-week lockdown earlier this month, yet the circumstances of their outbreak differed to that of Sydney's. 

Of the 21 cases in Sydney's Bondi cluster, there is just one case, a primary school student at Waverley's St Charles, that is so far unlinked.

For Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, she says it is "pleasing" the case is geographically linked to the cluster. 

Cars queue up at the Bondi Covid-19 testing clinic.
Residents queue in their cars in Bondi as an outbreak centres around the nearby Westfield. Source: Getty Images

Of the seven cases identified on Tuesday that will be included in Wednesday's numbers, six were household contacts of existing cases and were already isolating. 

And unlike the Melbourne outbreak, there has been no missing links to the source of the infection, with the Bondi cluster traced back to a limousine driver used to transfer flight staff.

Physician Dr Norman Swan, the ABC's health commentator, told Network Ten's The Project there were "very different circumstances" between the two quarantine leaks, meaning at this stage a lockdown was not needed.

He said there was an element of luck NSW had managed to identify the chain of transmission early.

"In Victoria you have the Wollert man and you had a broken chain of transmission... whereas here there’s an unbroken chain of transmission," he said.

However Dr Swan warned tightened restrictions could come into effect if the outbreak worsens and it begins to spread with unknown links – comments which echoed Ms Berejiklian earlier on Tuesday.

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Plea for more testing

The president of the Australian Medical Association's NSW branch Dr Danielle McMullen warned Sydneysiders needed to step up and do their bit to give health authorities the confidence a lockdown was not needed.

She called on more people to come forward and seek testing, a request Ms Berejiklian and Dr Chant have both repeatedly made in recent days.

Ms Berejiklian set an ambitious target of 40,000 daily tests, with 28,645 announced on Tuesday for the previous 24 hours.

UNSW epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws said NSW Health cannot have the same confidence as their Victorian counterparts have due to lower testing rates.

"We don't have that certainty yet because our testing numbers are low," she told ABC Breakfast.

Ms Berejiklian extended mask restrictions, which will remain compulsory until midnight on June 30 on public transport and in most indoor settings for people in Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Illawarra and Shellharbour.

NSW Health has also ramped up its advice around the original infection site at Westfield Bondi Junction and is asking anyone who was there, including the car park, at any time between June 12 and 18 to get tested for Covid-19.

Only people with symptoms and those who have been to specific exposure venues at the listed times need to test and isolate.

Investigations into the child's infection are ongoing.

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