‘Baby steps’ to freedom as virus tightens its grip on a tired and frustrated state

NSW authorities admit its soaring number of coronavirus cases will not improve if a “tired and frustrated” state begins to rebel against harsh lockdown measures.

Aug 26, 2021, updated Aug 26, 2021
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant (left) and Premier Gladys Berejiklian announcing the state's latest Covid infections. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant (left) and Premier Gladys Berejiklian announcing the state's latest Covid infections. (AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi)

NSW has recorded 1029 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and three deaths but the government has held out the hope that it will permit small outdoor gatherings from next month.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that from September 13, up to five fully vaccinated adults – outside of western Sydney’s 12 local government areas of concern – can gather outdoors.

Children – not yet vaccinated – can be included in these groups of five.

In the 12 council areas of concern, mostly in Sydney’s west and southwest suburbs, households with all adults vaccinated can gather outdoors for recreation, such as picnics – but not with other households.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant labelled the restriction change as “baby steps” to provide an element of hope to locked-down locals.

The changes reflect a promise made by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to offer “at least one” freedom once the state reaches six million vaccinations.

As of Tuesday, 61.47 per cent of eligible NSW residents have had at least one vaccine dose, while just under 33 per cent are fully jabbed.

But Chant also admitted daily infections could stretch far beyond 1000.

“Whilst I hope the people of southwest Sydney and western Sydney appreciate that, many will go, ‘that’s not much’. To be perfectly frank, these steps are baby steps, recognising the serious situation we are in,” she said.

She said numbers would continue to depend on compliance with restrictions and authorities were beginning to see a “deterioration” in people’s willingness to comply.

“People are obviously feeling so tired and frustrated with the length and duration of the restrictions.”

“If there are any issues of non-compliance or it’s causing issues, of course government can always change its mind, but as the premier has said repeatedly, we have to give the community the benefit of the doubt.”

Those who died include a man in his 30s, a man in his 60s and a man in his 80s, all of whom were unvaccinated. The death toll for the ten-week outbreak is now 79.

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A lockdown in regional NSW will also be extended by a fortnight to at least September 10, given the number of cases in Dubbo and western NSW.

There are almost 700 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in NSW, with 116 in intensive care beds and 43 ventilated. At least two western Sydney hospitals – Westmead and Blacktown – have called “code yellows” as patients climb.

NSW Health says it manages about 500 intensive care beds across NSW, with a surge capacity of about 2000 when required. At current capacities, almost 80 per cent of available intensive care beds in NSW are filled.

Berejiklian said that on current rates, NSW could reach 70 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage – triggering a major easing of restrictions – by mid-October.

“What we always need to consider is what checks the box in terms of lowest risk but highest value in terms of wellbeing and stress,” she said.

“We are already starting to work with industry stakeholders on how we can go back to safely open up to people who are vaccinated … we are sprinting.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has committed to making all 12- to 15-year-olds eligible for vaccination.

“We have some interim advice, which is very favourable on that score, but we expect the final advice very soon to be consistent with that,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“That enables us to move forward with the plans that are being prepared now for some weeks.”

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