Police officers outside the Sydney Opera House during the first day of lockdown on June 26, 2021. Photo / Getty Images
As Sydney’s Covid outbreak continues to worsen, experts are starting to think getting down to zero cases may not be possible and the city may need to be in lockdown until Christmas.
Cases in NSW have continued to increase, rising to 145 cases today, which is the second-worst daily tally in the outbreak despite a month-long lockdown.
The state this afternoon reported that two more people have died of Covid – a man and a woman in their 80s. This brings the death toll in the current outbreak to 10.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian had been hoping to see a downturn in cases over the weekend and early this week due to the stricter restrictions introduced a week ago, but this has not happened yet.
In fact, experts note the state’s five-day average rose to 135 cases on Sunday after there was a record 163 cases on Saturday and 144 cases on Sunday.
Experts including Melbourne University clinical epidemiologist Professor Nancy Baxter now believe Greater Sydney may not be able to get to zero cases through lockdown.
“I hope that’s not the case but things still haven’t turned around,” Professor Baxter told news.com.au.
“I think we are all surprised at how infectious Delta is, I think that’s what the real game changer is.”
It’s not clear why there hasn’t been a drop yet in cases, but Baxter said NSW authorities had introduced measures gradually.
“Hopefully we’ll see more of an effect now, I think that’s what we’re all hoping and waiting for.”
While there has been some talk of NSW “living with the virus”, Baxter says “no one is even contemplating living with this until people are vaccinated because living with it means a lot of people are going to die with it”.
This means Sydney is facing a long lockdown until enough people are vaccinated, and this could take until Christmas.
“That’s a possible scenario because lockdown restrictions haven’t got the virus under control to the extent we want it under control,” Baxter said.
“It’s hard to believe looser restrictions will keep things under wraps. If it’s not under control under lockdown, if we come out of lockdown it’s going to explode.”
Earlier today, University of South Australia epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman said today’s case tally makes clear that the state’s lockdown strategy “is simply not working”.
Esterman noted the five-day moving average “is still going up” and that the outbreak should have “reached its peak and started coming down”.
“If the lockdown was hard enough [we would have seen that already],” he told news.com.au.
“Clearly, it is either not hard enough, or there are too many Sydneysiders not complying with lockdown.”
NSW recorded 163 new coronavirus cases on Saturday and 141 new coronavirus cases on Sunday. Today’s number extended a streak of days with more than 100 new local cases to six.
A total of 76 people were moving around the community while infected, including 51 who were in the community the whole time they were infectious and 25 who were in the community for part of the time they were infectious.
Health experts have repeatedly flagged that the number of cases mingling in the community while infectious is a key area of concern.
‘Some settings might change’
Health officials are looking at further minimising movement in high-risk suburbs while not ruling out more freedoms for suburbs with few transmissions.
“Some settings might change,” Berejiklian said today.
“We might need to go harder in some areas and release some settings in others. Please know our government is always looking at the best options we have available.”
Berejiklian hinted that greater Sydney’s lockdown would be extended beyond this Friday. The announcement is expected before Thursday.
“We hope to provide announcement or updates to the community in the next few days,” Berejiklian said.
“Our mission is to keep the community as safe as possible but also make sure the community can live as freely as we can.”
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant appeared to suggest the state won’t be emerging from lockdown any time soon.
Asked by a reporter whether the lockdown will have to remain until the state reaches zero community cases, or 80 per cent vaccination, she offered the following response: “The Premier indicated that those discussions are ongoing about the path … but I think what we have learnt is … with that Delta variant, you don’t have much leeway.
“It is such a highly infectious strain of the virus and because we are tackling an issue that whenever we get to a case in a family, the family’s already been infected, or inevitably over the next couple of days will become positive. It has no grace period.
“With the previous strains, we could get to people early enough and so I think with that challenge, we need to ensure that our approach aligns with that.”
More protests planned
Thousands of anti-lockdown protesters descended on the CBD on Saturday, sparking fears they could create a superspreading event.
The rally has been met with disgust from state leaders, including the Premier and top cops.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys fears more protests are planned for the coming Saturday.
“There are some discussions … there’s some information on the internet at the moment about potential protests this Saturday,” he said.
“Can I just put this warning out now to everyone, [it] will be heavily policed. We will be taking the ground very early, you will be arrested.
“The community has spoken about that behaviour, the Premier has spoken about that behaviour, and it won’t be tolerated.”