Greater Sydney has been hit with a range of new restrictions including limits on visitors in the home and new travel rules after New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian announced 16 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday.
Amid a surge in new cases – including four not yet linked to an existing outbreak – Berejiklian said residents of seven local government areas across Sydney are no longer allowed to travel outside of the city as officials warned the Delta variant of the virus was proving particularly transmissible.
“I’m as worried right now as I have been at any time since January last year,” the NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, said on Wednesday.
The new restrictions include a limit of five visitors to homes, the reintroduction of the more stringent social distancing rules in hospitality venues and indoor mask-wearing at venues including workplaces. Berejiklian said restrictions are “effective immediately” for greater Sydney, the Central Coast, Blue Mountains, Wollongong and Shellharbour. The restrictions will remain in place for one week.
The 16 new cases announced on Wednesday include nine people who attended a party in West Hoxton in south-west Sydney on Monday.
About 30 people attended the party, and NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said all of them had been tested and were in isolation.
Among the positive cases from the party was a two-year-old child, who attended Little Zak’s childcare in Narellan Vale in the city’s south-west on 21 June.
“There is a particular family where a number of members of that family tested positive overnight,” Chant said.
The party was attended by a previously announced positive case, which is linked to the so-called Bondi cluster, which began last week.
Bondi cluster rises to 31 Covid cases
The number of cases linked to the outbreak now stands at 31 after a Sydney airport limousine driver tested positive to the highly infectious Delta variant, which quickly started spreading at Bondi Junction’s busy Westfield shopping centre.
Chant said the original positive case at the West Hoxton party did not have any symptoms when he attended the event, and got tested the next day as soon as they developed.
Chant said she believed he was probably “infectious in the community for one day”.
Little Zak’s Academy announced on social media that it had closed for deep cleaning after a positive case was returned on Tuesday night.
“The girl and her family are doing well and resting at home,” the preschool said. “As always, Little Zak’s Academy is taking additional precautionary measures to ensure all rooms and play areas are thoroughly sanitised,” the preschool said.
Other new cases included a woman in her 40s from Wollongong who is a close contact of a previously reported case who has been in isolation while infectious, a man in his 50s who works in Bondi Junction, and another close contact of a previously reported case linked to the cluster.
However four cases remain under investigation. Berejiklian said all of those people “either reside or work in the south-eastern Sydney area so that gives us some comfort about the geographical spread”.
“But what that means is there is clearly cases unrecognised in that area and I know the symptoms of Covid can be incredibly mild and some people can be asymptomatic and hence we want to call out and get those high testing numbers,” she said.
More than 44,000 tests were completed in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday.
The new restrictions also include mandates to wear masks to gym classes, which will now be limited to 20 people. Dancefloor numbers at weddings will be limited to 20, and Berejiklian acknowledged the new restrictions on social distancing would impact on attendance at events such as funerals. Sporting events held in stadiums will be limited to 50% capacity.
Berejiklian resisted calls for a lockdown, but said she would not “rule out” further restrictions.
“I am not ruling out any further action, but I am also confident that if we adhere to the health orders today, we will have a good chance of getting on top of this outbreak,” she said.
“I am not going to rule out further action, I am not gonna rule out what happens beyond a week, because we don’t know.”
The new restrictions come just two days before the beginning of school holidays, and other states including Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia have all announced border closures with NSW.
On Wednesday Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announcing a swathe of local government areas in greater Sydney would be declared “hotspots”. They included the City of Sydney, the Inner West, Waverley, Woollahra, Bayside, Canada Bay and Randwick.
The Queensland chief medical officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said the decision had been made out of concern about the transmissibility of the Delta variant of the virus.
“There’s well over 120 exposure venues and unfortunately, with the Delta variant, we’re seeing very fleeting contact leading to transmission,” she said.
“If you remember at the start of this pandemic, I spoke about 15 minutes of close contact being a concern. Now, it looks like it’s five to 10 seconds that’s a concern. So it’s just the risk is so much higher now than it was only a year ago.”
That decision was followed by an announcement from Western Australia premier Mark McGowan that the state would return to “hard border arrangements” with all of NSW. The change means “travel from or through NSW is no longer permitted, except for exempt travellers”, McGowan said, and became effective immediately. The SA government announced that travellers who had been in NSW in the 14 days since 11 June could no longer enter South Australia.
It came after Victoria announced it would close its borders to the same areas, as well as Waverley, which Queensland had already declared a hotspot.
Also on Wednesday, Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, announced the seven local government areas in Sydney would be recognised as Covid hotspots until at least 30 June.
The designation triggers the single site workforce supplement for residential aged care workers, preventing them from working across multiple sites. Kelly said it also meant the federal government would begin to provide personal protective equipment from the national medical stockpile and “further support into the public health emergency operations centre in NSW”.
In federal parliament, the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, asked Scott Morrison how many outbreaks it would take for the government to fix the “bungled vaccine rollout” and create “a safe national quarantine system”.
Morrison said he had spoken to the NSW premier earlier in the day and she had told him she was “pleased with the dosage distribution”. He added Berejiklian had taken a “positive decision” to avoid a lockdown.
The prime minister accused Albanese of playing politics, “running down Australia’s performance” and engaging in “carping negativity”.
Earlier, Young also confirmed a leak had occurred within the state’s hotel quarantine system earlier this month, saying genome sequencing had shown two people staying at the Brisbane Airport Novotel had caught the virus from another person staying in an adjacent room.
“That person in the room adjacent tested positive first and then two days later, the couple, or the two people in the adjacent room tested positive,” she said.
“And at the time we thought it was just overseas acquired. But now that I’ve got the genome sequencing back, it’s clear that the first person has given it to the other two people.”
Young said she had extended the quarantine of people currently staying on that floor of the hotel, while about 30 other people who had previously stayed there have been contacted by Queensland Health.