New South Wales has reported a record 356 local Covid cases prompting a government review of the exceptions permitting people to travel to the regions and a clampdown on compliance.
The state on Tuesday also recorded three deaths – a man in his 70s, a man in his 80s and a woman in her 80s. A returned traveller in his 80s unlinked to the Delta outbreak also died.
Byron Bay and three other local government areas on the north coast were placed into a snap seven-day lockdown on Monday night after a man travelled to the area from Sydney and was in the community for up to eight days.
Authorities said that apart from his family, there were no other cases identified so far. But testing is under way.
The man had been taken to hospital and was being interviewed by police. He is understood to have looked at expensive real estatebut there were reports he had not checked into venues using QR codes, making tracing challenging.
“All I am prepared to say about our traveller to Byron is the police are looking extremely closely at what he was doing in that area,” said the health minister, Brad Hazzard. “I trust the police will be able to take appropriate action in due course.
“There are matters where one has to be a bit cautious because I’m not going to prejudice part of the police investigations or the police actions.”
Hazzard said he had asked the NSW Health legal department to look at where the rules could be tightened to limit travel to the regions.
“What worries me is no matter what legal orders or requirements are in place, you can’t legislate against stupidity, arrogance and entitlement,” he said. “Clearly, the rule is now that you shouldn’t just travel from house to another for the sake of moving to the other house. Choose the property you are living in and stay there.”
As examples of permitted movement, Hazzard said a doctor who lives in Sydney but who went to the regions three days a week was within the rules. He also gave the example of parents who had split up and were looking to find a house for their children.
Hazzard said the government had asked police to reinforce the rules to prevent the spread of Covid, including travel to the regions, and other rules to prevent mobility.
Police are using numberplate recognition and on Monday pulled over seven vehicles and turned them around.
“If people applied the rules, if they complied with the rules and law and applied an element of common sense and modicum of decency to the rest of the community, we would be fine,” Hazzard said.
No more cases have emerged in Armidale and Tamworth to date, though more cases have emerged in the Newcastle area.
The NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said she remained concerned about Canterbury-Bankstown in particular. Of the 356 new cases, 71 were in Canterbury-Bankstown, 66 in Cumberland and 38 in Blacktown.
Cases are falling in Fairfield, previously a hotspot.
“If there was a simple silver bullet, that would be the case,” Chant said. “But from my public health perspective, I’m not happy that the case numbers are increasing and we certainly need to do all we can. But compliance will be one of those components of it.”
The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has continued to urge vaccination and is running special vaccination days for specific essential workers groups including construction workers.
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Hazzard said he would like to see all health workers vaccinated in NSW and was in discussions with the unions about making vaccination mandatory.
“I believe that if you want to work inside a health facility, if you want to care for patients, you should be vaccinated, because this particular virus is extremely dangerous,” he said.
The NSW and federal governments have clashed over who is responsible for vaccinating the aged care workforce ahead of a mid-September deadline for first doses in the sector.
On Tuesday, Hazzard said the state had not put in place a health order requiring the workforce to be vaccinated, saying it remained the federal government’s responsibility.
“We’ve made it clear, if any of the aged care workers who want to come to our hubs, we will vaccinate them. So we’re doing everything we can to assist them, and if at some stage, it moves to the point where we have to put an order in place, and that’s something that the federal government wants to do, we’ll do it,” Hazzard said.
“If they can tell us now and gave us that direction, I’d happily do it. But it’s their facility, their regulation and they’re responsible.”
When asked in parliament about the rate of vaccination of the workforce, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said NSW had agreed to put in place a public health order and questioned the “state of knowledge” of Hazzard.
“The matter of mandatory vaccinations for aged care workers was the subject of a national cabinet decision attended by the premier of NSW,” Morrison said.
“All, including the NSW premier, agreed to put in place those public health orders and I have received several updates from the premier of NSW about their progress towards achieving that.”
The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, said the WA government had issued its public health direction on Monday. So far, 57.5% of the aged care workforce has received a single dose, and 37% has received two doses.
Berejiklian has continued to talk about some relaxation of lockdown restrictions after 29 August, provided that the state reaches 6m vaccine doses administered across the population.
“Some suburbs have nearly 100% vaccination,” she said. “But if the virus isn’t circulating [in] that community, we’re keen to make sure that we reduce the spread and increase vaccination in the communities that are especially vulnerable with the virus and want to make sure that that is a priority.”