And there it is. After months of peddling the ‘stay the course’, ‘live with the virus’ line, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced changes to the state’s COVID restrictions, bringing back some of the lockdown measures that were lifted in November.
In a major reversal of policy, the NSW government will limit activity in nightclubs across the state, ban singing and dancing in pubs and clubs, and put a pause on some major events and elective surgeries.
“Today we are making some sensible and proportionate changes as we move through this next period as the peak of Omicron comes through,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said.
The changes are set to come in from tomorrow, 7 January and are expected to last until 28 January.
The ban on singing and dancing will only impact those in hospitality venues. Those at weddings, funerals, and religious gatherings will not be impacted.
Perrottet said that he is keen not to bar all major events, but that all those hosting large events will have to speak with NSW Health to manage and assess the risk of the event.
When it comes to vertical consumption, the phrase given was; “if you can sit down while drinking, please do so.” There appears to be no hard and fast rule here, only an encouragement to act sensibly.
Perrottet also encouraged people to “minimise household visitations” and refrain from mingling with others in indoor settings where possible. Any gatherings that are taking place are “encouraged” to happen outdoors rather than indoors.
The decision has been made in response to the rampant COVID case numbers the state has seen over the past few days which jumped over 10,000 cases on Wednesday from 23,000 new cases to over 35,000. Yesterday also saw similar numbers and recorded 38,000 on Friday, 7 January.
The plans, which are said to have been finalised last night, were leaked to the Sydney Morning Herald this morning.
The new rules state that the ‘vertical consumption’ of alcohol will also be banned for the time being. Major events are expected to be risk-assessed by NSW Health and postponed where necessary. The measures have been re-branded as “safety measures” rather than “lockdown.”
Perrottet called on all NSW citizens to get their booster jabs as soon as they are able to, saying that he expects the booster jab rollout to ramp up in the following weeks.
Modelling was released to show how hospitals and health care systems would be affected by the rising case numbers. Perrottet said that the modelling indicates that “even in the worst case scenario,” very high case numbers would be able to be accommodated for by NSW Health.
Currently, Sydney Cricket Ground is hosting the Ashes, with a capacity of 48,000 people in the stadium. Although attendance numbers have been lower due to COVID fears and the poor weather conditions, it remains to be seen whether the cricket will be cancelled.
Just two days ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in response to a journalist’s question, said that the country had “no choice” but to “ride the wave” of the omicron variant and that the country could not go back to the era of lockdowns.
Localised lockdowns are however part of the government’s four-phase plan, the final stage of which we are in now as vaccination rates are well above the required 80%. The new restrictions are thought to be emergency measures designed to keep the pressure off the healthcare system which is struggling under the weight of COVID positive and close contact staff. 3800 health staff were thought to be off work on Wednesday, up from 2200 the previous Wednesday.
Non-urgent elective surgeries – that is “category three surgeries” – are being suspended from tomorrow until mid February and the government is looking to utilise private hospital spaces to deal with the surge in cases.
It’s a blow to anyone waiting on non-emergency procedures, many of whom will have been waiting months or even years as the pandemic sidelined the surgeries. Victoria too announced on Wednesday that they would also be suspending non-urgent surgeries to help hospitals deal with the high numbers of COVID positive patients.
NSW also announced today that positive RATs would be included in the daily COVID case figures. People who test positive on a rapid antigen have been told to register that case through the Service New South Wales app.
“The modelling today is encouraging,” Perrottet said.
“Whilst it will be a difficult few weeks in New South Wales, the effort we have made to go out, to get vaccinated, to get boosted has been key to opening up our society, to living with the virus.”
The Premier did however warn that “further changes” might need to be made as the situation develops and even as the state moves into winter.