NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has come under fire from leading infectious diseases experts say Greater Sydney should have had a three-day lockdown before Christmas.
University of New South Wales head of biosecurity and research Raina MacIntyre warned New Year’s Eve had the potential to cause a horror two-week period with the virus.
She said that could be accelerated by the cricket’s third Test match between Australia and India at the 48,000-seat SCG, which will go ahead with a 50 per cent capacity.
Prof MacIntyre questioned why up to 24,000 would be allowed to watch the cricket at the SCG in the wake of widespread cancellations of New Year’s Eve celebrations.
She also said the city should have been locked down before the super-spreading events of Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Prof MacIntyre said she believed that instead of Ms Berejiklian’s gradual tightening of restrictions on gatherings at home and indoors, a brief shutdown would have been more effective.
“If there had been a Greater Sydney lockdown before Christmas, for even three days, it would have saved a lot of pain,” Prof MacIntyre told 2GB radio on Thursday.
“(So far it has been) voluntary recommendations and piecemeal restrictions in the middle of what is a very serious outbreak.”
As COVID-19 spreads from Sydney to Melbourne, with three new cases ending Victoria’s 61-day case-free streak, epidemiologist Mike Toole urged masks to be made mandatory in Sydney.
“I think (masks) need to happen in Sydney particularly in this coming in this very dangerous 10 days,” Prof Toole told Sunrise.
“There are 50 active cases in greater Sydney, that means about 500 contacts and up to 5000 contacts of contacts.”
Prof MacIntyre also warned New Year’s Eve was a critical time for Sydney’s outbreak.
“Tonight is a very high risk; people who got infected on Christmas Day will be at their most infectious today,” she said.
“This is a super danger period, from January 6 to January 14 is where we may see a big surge in cases. It’s going to go up again because of tonight.”
This week, Ms Berejiklian scrapped a plan to allow frontline workers to watch the fireworks from the Sydney Harbour foreshore. Her government also reduced the number of people allowed to gather at a home from 10 to five and outdoors from 50 to 30.
Australian Medical Association WA president Dr Andrew Miller disagreed with the Berejiklian government’s claims it had been taking a “precautionary approach” to the outbreaks.
“In the instance of coronavirus, being precautionary means to take quite strong measures very early,” he said.
“Things like lockdowns, tell people to wear masks, get some vaccine ready to go in an emergency sense and none of those things are being suggested in NSW at the moment.”
However, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard hit back at Dr Miller’s criticism while defending the state’s handling of the latest outbreak.
“If the AMA president has a particular view, I will leave that to him in WA,” Mr Hazzard said. “He must be an instant expert on what is happening here in NSW. I’m happy to just continue to work with our health authorities who have done a fantastic job quickly.”
Meanwhile, infectious disease expert Peter Collignon, from the Australian National University, said harsh lockdowns were not effective.
He pointed to countries such as Spain, which endured a strict lockdown but then suffered multiple waves of COVID-19 to bring the nation’s total cases to almost 2 million – with 50,000 deaths.
“Lockdowns have the benefit of decreasing spread, but it doesn’t give you medium to long-term relief because countries like Italy, the UK and Spain, as well as American state like California, still have issues after lockdowns,” Prof Collignon told NCA NewsWire.