NSW, now the state of ‘personal responsibility’ — except when it comes to reproductive rights — has finally reintroduced some of the health measures put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 which were removed just as case numbers began to spike.
On Thursday, 23 December, it was announced that NSW would be bringing back QR code check-ins, mask mandates, and density limits in response to measures discussed during Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting.
From midnight tonight, masks will be required to be worn in indoor settings and workers will be encouraged to work from home if possible.
Density limits will also be introduced in hospitality venues from 27 December, returning to the one person per two square metre rule.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, who has supported the rapid relaxing of restrictions since he took office just a few months ago, has also said that QR code check-ins will be reintroduced in most hospitality and retail settings just eight days after their removal. There is currently no timeline for when the check-ins will need to be reintroduced.
These measures are set to be introduced from tonight until at least 27 January.
“We’ve always said as we have moved through this that we will monitor the situation and the evidence in front of us,” Perrottet said. “What we’re seeing at the moment is that many of our health workers, around 1,500 just today, are either sick or unable through testing requirements to be able to come into work.”
“We do want to limit mobility, just as we get through this period of time and particularly in relation to ensuring that our health workers are able to be on the job and provide that care and support for those who are unwell.”
Perrottet has also suggested that rapid antigen tests may soon be made freely available to the public after long queues and waiting times for PCR test results have put enormous pressure on the healthcare system. Many of the tests being conducted are thought to be for travel purposes, not those who might have been exposed or are experiencing symptoms.
“As we continue to reopen in a safe and measured way, this is all about expanding our arsenal as we learn to live with the virus,” Perrottet said.
“People have come forward to get tested in record numbers, which is important to help keep people and the community safe, but we need to make sure our testing clinics are there for people who really need it.”
The Premier has encouraged people to use the kits before heading to large gatherings or high-risk settings like aged care homes, pubs, and nightclubs. He has suggested that they may soon be used in a similar way to how they are currently employed in the UK, where many large events require a negative rapid antigen test on entry.
People will soon be able to order the testing kits online and they are expected to be made available for free at GP clinics, NSW Health facilities, and pharmacies.
However, despite the advice of epidemiologists, the Premier stopped short of expanding the mask-wearing mandates, saying that it was the “personal responsibility” of residents to wear masks in high-risk settings.
“As we’re heading into this Christmas period… there’s no doubt shopping centres will be busier, we just say please take personal responsibility,” Perrotett said.
Queensland, Tasmania, and the ACT have all re-introduced mask mandates in response to rising case numbers. In NSW masks are still required on public transport and in a number of limited high-risk settings like aged-care homes.
NSW recorded 5,715 cases on Thursday, the highest number of any Australian jurisdiction, while the Doherty Institute suggests Australia could see 200,000 cases per day if new restrictions are not introduced.
That being said, there are only 347 people in hospital with the disease and only 45 in intensive care. Hospitalisations and ICU admissions appear not to be rising at the same rate as case numbers.