New South Wales premier Gladys Berejikilian has warned Covid case numbers will continue to rise in Sydney as outbreaks emerged in three care facilities and scores of people tested positive after spending part or all of their infectious period in the community.
NSW set several new records in its Covid case numbers on Thursday, with the 124 new locally acquired cases the highest number of its current outbreak, detected from a daily testing record of 85,185.
Among the new cases are outbreaks that have emerged at two residential aged care facilities where staff were unvaccinated – one worker at The Palms in Kirrawee and two staff at the Japara Corymbia home in Belrose – as well as the Unisson Disability care home in Parklea where three residents and two staff have tested positive.
As many as 87 of the new cases could have been infectious in the community, with 48 not isolating for their infectious period, 22 only partially isolating and 17 under investigation.
In a stark admission, Berejiklian said the majority of those cases infectious in the community were “derived from critical activity” – either essential workers or people buying groceries and medicines – and said further restrictions were unlikely to reduce these types of transmissions.
NSW records 124 new cases and ‘nobody in ICU had both doses of vaccine’, premier says – video
Berejiklian said that previously, infections had mostly been among essential workers taking it homes to their households but that now “patrons [at essential businesses] are picking up the disease and taking it home to their families”.
“It is spreading like we’ve never seen before,” she said.
“We’re finding transmission in areas where people have to be where they’re at and that’s why it’s important to make sure that if you’ve been asked to have a test every three days, you do so. If you have the mildest of symptoms, do not come to work.
“Unfortunately we get recurring cases of people who have symptoms who turn up to work thinking they’re not infectious … I think people are quite shocked as to how different and contagious the Delta strain is. It’s like nothing we’ve seen before,” she said.
However Berejiklian said contact tracers were learning that Covid was spreading between households, with positive cases visiting their families in other households, something restricted under the current lockdown.
Despite progressively tightening restrictions across Sydney since the lockdown was announced, Berejiklian said this was yet to reflect in the daily numbers, and warned she is expecting case numbers “to go up even higher” in coming days because of the growing numbers of those infectious in the community.
Berejiklian has consistently linked a reduction in the number of cases infectious while in the community to as close to zero as possible as a condition for loosening restrictions, and while she maintained that relaxations for some settings would be announced on 31 July, these were unlikely to include freedoms to gather with people from different areas or in indoor settings.
“The last thing we want is to be in a stage where we keep going in and out of harsh lockdown,” she said.
“Our real key to freedom is having a high percentage of vaccination,” said Berejiklian, who has previously set an 80% vaccination target to reopen. As of Thursday, about 3.2 million vaccine doses had been administered in a state that will ultimately require about 16 million doses to be fully vaccinated.
The health minister, Brad Hazzard, raised particular concern at hesitancy towards the AstraZeneca vaccine in his state, noting that at the vaccination hub at Sydney Olympic Park on Wednesday, 9,000 Pfizer vaccines and just 50 AstraZeneca vaccines were administered.
“It’s a shocker … I think that’s obviously come off the back of advice that came out of Atagi, and also then translated by the federal government. I just think we need to take a step back and say … most of us can’t afford the luxury of sitting back and saying I don’t want to have the vaccine that has actually been taken by almost every country in the world and kept other countries safe,” Hazard said.
Berejiklian said 55% of the Covid cases in NSW are under 55, and asked younger residents not yet eligible for a Pfizer vaccine to ask their GP for permission for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Berejiklian also said no jurisdiction in the world has “beaten” the Delta variant, and said “we appreciate that cases are going to keep popping up during Delta” and that “the challenge for us is to live as safely and freely as we can” before achieving her vaccination target.
“Until we get vaccination rates up we will have some level of restriction in the community,” she said.
Berejiklian said that health authorities’ fears of a “spillover” of the virus from Fairfield to neighbouring suburbs had materialised. Of the 120 new cases, 30 lived in Fairfield, 23 in Cumberland, 21 in Canterbury-Bankstown and 12 in Blacktown.
Both Berejiklian and the deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, rejected claims that contact tracers were overworked because exposure sites were being announced almost a week after the time of concern, saying “the challenge we have is getting reliable information from people who may not be able to tell us everything on the first go”.
In addition, Berejiklian said contact tracers were now recommending that all positive cases send a text to everyone in their phone contact lists, irrespective of whether they’d had contact with them in recent days, to alert them “to say someone you know has tested positive to Covid”.
There are currently 118 Covid cases in hospitals in NSW, with 28 people in intensive care and 14 of them requiring ventilators.