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Covid 19 coronavirus: Sydney outbreak grows by 18, fears lockdown may end too soon

NSW has recorded 18 new community cases of Covid-19, with 16 linked to a known case or cluster.

This brings the total number of cases in Sydney’s outbreak to 330, with 255 linked to the Bondi cluster.

Of today’s 18 new cases, 11 were in isolation throughout their infectious periods and five cases were in isolation for part of their infectious period. Two cases were infectious in the community.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was worrying there were still cases being found infectious in the community.

“The lockdown is having its desired effect to date, no doubt about that. But it is still concerning that a number of cases are remaining infectious in the community for that period of time,” she said.

“And some cases have been received are quite historic, so people have been exposed in the community for a number of days and that is not what we want to see.”

Berejiklian said a decision on the Greater Sydney lockdown will be announced tomorrow morning.

She said officials and health authorities will be having discussions throughout today and tonight to make a decision on whether restrictions need to be extended.

“NSW wants this to be the last lockdown until we get the majority of our citizens vaccinated,” Berejiklian said. “The difference now to what occurred in the last year or so since we had the only other lockdown, is the Delta strain.”

NSW had “the best contact tracers in the world”, Berejiklian said, but the Delta variant presented a new challenge and required “a different type of response”. Those factors would be weighed before deciding “as to whether [the lockdown] finishes on Friday or whether we continue for a period longer”.

Warnings against ending lockdown

An epidemiologist has warned New South Wales could see another rise in Covid-19 cases if the lockdown is lifted before the state reaches a critical figure.

While the number of people spending their infectious period out in the community is dropping, University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely said that figure needed to be at zero before Greater Sydney can safely emerge from lockdown.

“For a lockdown to be successful, we really need to see the number of notified cases that are out in the community down to zero,” Blakely told the ABC.

The two-week lockdown for Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour is set to end at 11.59pm on Friday, July 9.

However, Blakely said lifting the lockdown while there were still infectious cases popping up in the community could see the outbreak “take off” once more.

“If we just open up restrictions at that point, they will just take off again … that’s just how the virus behaves,” he said, adding it’s not only a risk for NSW, but the rest of Australia as well.

He said if he was in the shoes of chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant he would be a “bit worried” that the numbers weren’t dropping.

A team of economists, public health experts and modellers from the Australian National University have also found the benefits of lockdowns that were long enough to get community transmission to zero outweighed the short-term gains of easing lockdowns too early.

“Our key insight was that lockdowns need to be long enough to crush the virus, and that effective, longer lockdowns benefit both public health and the economy,” lead author Quentin Grafton said in a statement on Monday.

Decisions must be based on the facts on the ground such as the number of new cases, links to known chains of transmission, and the number of new cases not already in self-isolation, he said.

“The point is to go early [with a lockdown] and go hard and go significantly long enough to bring about zero Covid-19 community transmission. The numbers aren’t looking good for Greater Sydney at the moment.”

Grafton stopped short of calling for the lockdown to be extended, but said a decision should depend on the data available on Friday.

“We’ve got to make sure that we get on top of this and we don’t get an epidemic.”

The virus would not just stay in Sydney, which meant the whole country could be at risk and it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars, he said.

Tom Kompas, from the University of Melbourne, said authorities should rethink how Covid-19 outbreaks were managed.

“We’re a long way from a post-Covid world. If we think we can do away with periods of movement restrictions when uncontrolled outbreaks occur, we need to think again.

“The key point here is not to think about the economic costs over a period of a couple of weeks, large as they are, but rather to consider the costs over a period of months if community transmission continues.”

On Monday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the next few days would be “critical” in deciding whether the lockdown will end on time, urging residents to follow the restrictions.

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