Lockdown extended into August; Sydney crisis deepens with 97 new cases

NSW has recorded 97 new local COVID-19 cases, prompting the government to extend a lockdown in Greater Sydney and surrounds by at least two more weeks.

Jul 14, 2021, updated Jul 14, 2021
Various outbreaks of Covid-19 epidemic have left our city streets abandoned and our social and economic systems under pressure  (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

Various outbreaks of Covid-19 epidemic have left our city streets abandoned and our social and economic systems under pressure (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas)

The stay-at-home provisions, which were scheduled to end on Friday, will now remain in place until at least July 30.

The state’s schools will also continue with online learning.

Of the 97 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday, at least 31 were in the community during part or all of their infectious period.

“(That’s) what we need to get down to as close to zero as possible,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Wednesday.

Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles had earlier revealed the state continued to monitor the situation.

“Pleasingly the ongoing monitoring of sewage indicates that the outbreak there is largely contained to Greater Sydney, meaning that the restrictions in place in Greater Sydney may mean that we don’t yet need to put in place greater border restrictions here,” Miles said.

Queensland is due to ease its restrictions on Friday, with the local tourism and hospitality sector benefitting from major sporting fixtures having to be moved to the state. The only COVID-19 cases reported in the Sunshine State on Wednesday were in international travellers already in hotel quarantine.

The latest numbers in Sydney were announced after the state and federal governments on Tuesday afternoon revealed an extensive financial support package.

The NSW government expanded a business grants program and will cut or defer payroll taxes for most companies, while workers who have lost eight or more hours a week as a result of the lockdown will be able to apply for up to $600 per week in federal support.

The increase in workers’ payments kicks in once a lockdown exceeds 21 days.

While there has been some criticism of the Morrison Government’s deal with NSW, particularly in comparison to the level of support given to Victoria during its prolonged outbreaks, Miles suggested the Prime Minister may have had another reason for being generous.

“It’s somewhat understandable but Scott Morrison feels a bit more responsible for the Sydney outbreak given he urged the premier to delay the lockdown there, and I suspect that’s one of the reasons that he’s chosen to step in there and provide additional compensation,” Miles said.

Berejiklian said an extension to lockdown provisions was inevitable given the extent of COVID-19 spread in the community.

She said the government continued to prioritise aged care workers and teachers in southwest Sydney for vaccination.

“Of course we want to see this lockdown end in a timely way … (but) we’ll have that support for businesses,” Berejiklian said.

“The feedback from business has been very positive.”

There are currently 20 COVID-19 patients in NSW in intensive care, with four ventilated.

Morrison has revamped federal support for states enduring long lockdowns, saying it is in the national interest to be more generous.

The support package “will go for as long as the lockdown requires”, the prime minister said on Tuesday.

“It is in the national interest that we ensure that a lockdown will be effective.”

A cashflow boost to businesses about to enter their fourth week of lockdown will cost $500 million a week from next week.

The payments drew criticism from Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. who said while NSW deserved every support possible, “Victorians are rightly sick and tired of having to beg for every scrap of support from the federal government.”

“We had to shame the federal government into doing their job and providing income support for Victorian workers when we battled the Delta strain earlier this year.”

The statement went on to accuse the federal government of double standards, saying Morrison’s job “is not to be the prime minister for NSW”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg turned on Andrews, telling ABC’s 730 program “people are sick of his whinging and his politicking of the crisis”.

“The reality is this, we have provided more support on a per capita basis to Victoria through JobKeeper than any other state,” he said.

The federal government will share the cashflow support burden 50/50 with the NSW government.

“It gives us that freedom and gives everybody that breather to be able to follow the health advice and to try to get out of the lockdown as quickly as we can,” said Berejiklian.

The support package will cut out when the Sydney lockdown ends, but sets up a national framework that will be applied to other states and territories who suffer an subsequent long outbreak.

From week four of a lockdown in a declared hotspot, the disaster payment will be $600 if a person has lost 20 or more hours of work a week or $375 for between eight and less than 20 hours of work a week foregone.

“We don’t know how long this extended lockdown will go for,” Frydenberg told Sky News.

“Those programs now form a template that can be rolled out in other states and territories.”

Businesses are required to maintain staffing levels that were on the payroll as of July 13, but can reduce hours of work because workers can get the disaster payment top-up.

“Already more than 130,000 people from NSW have applied for that payment. I expect that number to increase,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“We recognise this is a very difficult and trying time for NSW and for the country as a whole with more than five million subject to lockdown.”

The cashflow support for fixed costs is capped at $10,000 per week and is set at about 40 per cent of a businesses’ payroll.

They have to show that their turnover is down by 30 per cent or more.

Sole traders can get $1,000 a week, and not-for-profit organisations are also eligible.

“The impact has been swift and brutal,” managing partner Grant Saxon at consultancy firm BDO Sydney told AAP.

“Hopefully, with this new support, businesses and sole traders will be able to get through the next few difficult weeks.”

The treasurer said Australia had transitioned to a different form of economic response, with localised outbreaks not a nationwide crisis.

“We’re dealing with an economy that’s at a different stage than when we introduced JobKeeper,” he said.

Earlier last year, fear gripped the community and long lines formed outside Centrelink offices.

AMP chief economist Shane Oliver estimates the lockdown is costing the economy $1 billion a week, and will be harder to recover from if the lockdown goes for another four weeks.

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