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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Mask use encouraged as Sydney COVID outbreak grows by 15

During an update this morning NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was a record day of testing in New South Wales yesterday, with 38,000 people tested for COVID-19.

There were 15 locally acquired cases, all of which were linked to the Avalon cluster, bringing the total number of linked cases to 83.

Ms Berejiklian said the government was monitoring the situation on an hourly basis and it was an “ongoing brief”.

“We’ve halved the number of cases overnight, but in a pandemic there’s a level of volatility.”

A lengthy list of venues identified by contact tracers, who Ms Berejiklian described as “the best contact tracing team on the planet”, was added to the NSW Health website and residents were encouraged to regularly visit the site for updates.

Christmas plans pending

Ms Berejiklian said a decision about restrictions for 25 December will be announced on Wednesday morning (23 December), following testing results recorded overnight.

“There could very well be developments in the next few hours that cause us to go back to the case numbers we’ve seen in the last few days.”

“I appreciate how frustrating it is, and I’d love to be able to tell everybody today what Christmas might look like in New South Wales or in the [Sydney] Northern Beaches.”

She said the NSW Government prided itself on making sure it mitigated risk “at every part of this pandemic”.

“There’s nothing political about this, this is all about health advice.”

Masks encouraged, not mandatory

It is not mandatory to wear a mask in NSW; however, Ms Berejiklian made a clear statement regarding mask wearing.

She told NSW residents to wear masks when visiting public indoor settings, not just in the Northern Beaches but in greater Sydney.

This included on public transport, in shops and in places of worship.

“Don’t think you’re immune, this can affect any of us.

“We know how absolutely contagious this virus is.”

Contact tracing hindered by fake check-ins

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said government officials discovered some visitors to NSW venues entered fake names and phone numbers when checking in upon arrival.

“That must stop,” he said.

“This is a worldwide COVID pandemic, and thinking it’s smart to call yourself Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse is about as stupid as it gets.”

He said business proprietors must be able to hand over data to health tracers quickly, whatever QR code or data collection service they were using; however, they would not mandate the use of the NSW Government app.

“We are going to work with our community, not actually be punitive.”

Social distancing measures in place

Residents of the Northern Beaches are not permitted to leave their home unless it is for work, exercise, giving care or grocery shopping.

New health orders signed yesterday limit residential gatherings to 10 people across Greater Sydney.

There will be a maximum of 300 people at hospitality venues and places of worship, with social distancing limits of one person per four square metres, instead of one person per two square metres.  

Singing and dancing were restricted at weddings and church services.

Church choirs may have five singers, five metres away from other worshippers.

Aged care facilities were asked to close for visitors until Christmas Eve.

Intrastate travel discouraged if symptomatic

Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s message to regional NSW was that there was “no need to panic”.

He told residents in the outer metro area of Sydney to cancel their travel plans if they were symptomatic.

“Be mature, be understanding that you could cause some level of risk and anxiety in the regions.

“If you’ve got any symptoms, please get tested, change your travel plans and maybe don’t visit regional NSW right now until we get on top of this issue.”

Root of the Avalon cluster remains a mystery

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said contact tracers were yet to find the source of the infection that led to the seeding event believed to have occurred on 11 December in the Northern Beaches.

“We have had a number of clusters that have risen outside, all linked to the Avalon cluster,” she said. 

“We want to make sure there is no further spread from those seeding events.” 

Dr Chant said there was clear evidence of community transmission in the Northern Beaches area, and restrictions also applied to those who had left the area since 10 December.

“Follow the directions as if you were residing in the Northern Beaches.”

No link to new strain of COVID-19

Dr Chant confirmed the Avalon outbreak was in no way linked to the new strain of COVID-19 discovered in the United Kingdom; however, there were “a couple” of cases of that more virulent strain in the state, from returned travellers.

She said she was not aware of any infected NSW resident being admitted to hospital from this cluster yet.

“I also reminded the community that often the second week of a COVID illness, symptoms become more severe.

“It is important that we support and monitor, and that the health needs of people with COVID are addressed.

“We should not be complacent about the impact this can have on individuals and communities,” Dr Chant said.

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