NSW Covid update: daily infections stabilising amid warning ‘it’s too early to know’ if flattening curve

By Elias Visontay and Mostafa Rachwani
A Covid vaccination sign outside a pharmacy in the Sydney’s CBD
A Covid vaccination sign outside a pharmacy in Sydney’s CBD. On Tuesday 1,253 coronavirus patients were being treated in NSW hospitals, a rise of 64 on the previous day. Photograph: Loren Elliott/Reuters

Daily Covid infections in New South Wales are continuing to stabilise, with 1,127 new locally acquired cases and two further deaths from the virus, but health authorities believe “it’s too early to know if we’re flattening the curve”.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty, the state’s deputy chief health officer, delivered the message at the NSW Covid update on Tuesday, on the first day since the beginning of the outbreak that a member of the Berejiklian government was not present to answer questions from the media.

McAnulty appeared with NSW Health deputy secretary Susan Pearce and they took questions, but were unable to respond on behalf of the NSW government or speak to any political decisions.

It comes as the premier Gladys Berejiklian met with the mayors from the 12 local government areas of concern earlier on Tuesday. One mayor described the discussion as “constructive” but “heated”.

Canterbury-Bankstown mayor Khal Asfour, who has emerged as a vocal leader of the LGAs, said that it would have been “really good if we had this meeting 10-11 weeks ago”.

“To be able to convey some of the concerns of our residents to her directly. But we’re grateful that she’s given up her time,” he said.

Asfour said he, as well as Fairfield mayor Frank Carbone, Campbelltown mayor George Petrovich and Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller, called for the NSW government to relax particular restrictions in the 12 LGAs, including opening pools and lifting the curfew, labelling these “discriminations” faced by residents.

But he said there were no guarantees Berejiklian would change anything.

“She has promised to look at alleviating some of these pressures, if she can, prior to the 70% target date, which is what we’ve been asking for.”

Asfour said his main priority was lifting the curfew, which he says is not needed.

“We know the curfews don’t work, we’ve proven that with the numbers not going down with the implementation of the curfew. We’re sick and tired of the helicopters flying overhead, waking up small children at two or three o’clock in the morning.”

On Tuesday, 78.8% of NSW residents aged over 16 had received their first vaccine dose, with the double-dose vaccination figure at 46.5%. Fully vaccinated residents in NSW will receive significant freedoms and be exempt from stay-at-home orders once the state reaches 70% double-dose vaccination.

Hospitalisations in NSW are also increasing. There were 1,253 Covid patients being treated in hospitals on Tuesday, a net increase of 64 on the previous day. There are now 231 Covid patients in intensive care, with 104 of them on ventilators. Thousands more Covid patients are receiving hospital care in their homes to avoid exposure.

Of the two people who died, one was a woman in her 80s from western Sydney who died in hospital and had received one vaccine dose, and had underlying health conditions. The other was a man in his 50s from western Sydney and also died in hospital, and had received his first dose three days before testing positive. He did not have any underlying health conditions.

Speaking about Tuesday’s case numbers, McAnulty said: “It’s too early to know if we’re flattening the curve.

“But we’re seeing, pleasingly so far, that cases haven’t been increasing as fast as they have been.

He said there may have been “an effect of the weekend”, suggesting testing numbers were lower over the weekend.

“We’ll look to see what’s happening throughout the rest of this week to know how we’re going. But it’s really pleasing to see immunisation rates increasing so quickly.”

McAnulty said “it’s too early to say” if increasing vaccination rates in recent weeks were directly responsible for lowering daily case numbers this week, but added: “It’s encouraging and provides a good message to the rest of us across the state that immunisation is the key to getting out of this outbreak.”

McAnulty was asked about rising Covid transmission in the City of Sydney and whether authorities were close to designating it an LGA of concern. He reiterated that authorities reviewed the situation daily and that it “could change at any time”, saying they looked at local vaccination rates and transport and mobility data in addition to case trajectory when making a decision.

A ‘growing divide’ between Sydney’s west and east

On Monday, Berejiklian appeared to pour cold water on hopes that Sydney’s harshest restrictions in Covid hotspots could be eased, after criticism from western suburbs mayors upset by packed eastern suburbs beaches over the weekend.

She said opening up pools and easing recreation rules so residents in the west and south-west of Sydney could reach a place to swim was not a decision she could make.

A busy Bondi beach in Sydney on the weekend. The NSW government has copped criticism from leaders in the city’s west as many people there are not able to travel to the beach.
A busy Bondi beach in Sydney on the weekend. The NSW government has copped criticism from leaders in the city’s west as many people there are not able to travel to the coast. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/EPA

While McAnulty was unable to speak to government decision-making, he said there was no difference in Covid risk between swimming in a natural body of water or a pool, but that authorities had to consider things like changing rooms and how to minimise congregating in areas of concern.

“Exercise is good for people, being outside is good for people, but we need to make sure we’re limiting congregation,” he said.

“In the west and south-west Sydney, where we’ve been seeing the bulk of cases, minimising congregation of people, even outdoors, is important.

“And human-made pools, council pools, are places where you pay to go in, you have change rooms, you have places where you encourage congregation, whereas many natural pools don’t have that.

“Certainly on the coastline so far we’ve had lower rates of disease. All of those factors are taken into account when deciding whether or not it’s safe to open any facility.”

But Berejiklian’s position on this remains unclear.

Asfour said that, when asked how the premier responded to requests for more outdoor recreation time for residents in the 12 LGAs, she was concerned that “larger families” that live there would pose a transmission risk.

“That doesn’t sit well with me. I think we have large families that wear masks and that won’t be spreading the virus,” Asfour said.

“The premier and the chief health officer continue to say that the safest place to be is outdoors.

“Well if that’s the case, why can’t my community go outdoors for longer than two hours or longer, or see other people, just like the rest of Sydney.”

In a statement, Waller warned there was a “growing divide” between the west of Sydney and other parts of the city.

On Monday night, the Lebanese Muslim Association, based in Canterbury-Bankstown and host to a busy vaccine pop-up clinic, condemned the “double standards” in the application of restrictions.

“The empty rhetoric of togetherness was evident last weekend while clear non-compliance in Bondi and the beaches across Sydney were met with respectful conversations, while non-compliance in Bankstown was treated with heavy-handed police and paramedics.

“This double standard is unacceptable, and the current position and treatment of different LGAs is an absolute farce when we clearly prioritise the tans of some over the lives of others.”


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