On Saturday, NSW announced a two-week lockdown of Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast and Wollongong.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the shock call after another sharp rise in cases, with fears the outbreak had spread beyond the CBD and eastern suburbs.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called an urgent national cabinet meeting on Monday as the outbreak spread to other states and territories.
Multiple states have now reintroduced restrictions and borders have been slammed shut.
“A few days ago I said I felt this was the scariest time since the pandemic started and that has proven to be the case,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Saturday.
“NSW always has a policy of not burdening our citizens unless we absolutely have to but unfortunately at this point in time we absolutely have to.”
Ms Berejiklian said the rapid rise in cases had left her with no choice.
“The best health advice is we will need two weeks in order to get on top of the community transmission of this very contagious strain,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“We should brace ourselves for additional cases. We know the numbers will go up in the next few days.”
‘Did we need full lockdown?’
ANU infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon said it would become clearer over the next week or so whether the full lockdown was necessary.
“If we get to 100 cases a day, they probably should have done it earlier,” he said.
Prof Collignon said his view was the outbreak was “not out of control yet”, as the vast majority of the cases were known contacts.
He said there had already been rules in place for at least a week, and due to the incubation period of the virus, the effect of any intervention took around five to seven days to be seen.
“My expectation is we’ll see 30 to 40 cases a day for a few days, then it will level off and go down,” he said.
“If that’s the case, did we need a full lockdown?”
He noted that at the moment cases appeared to be hovering at around the 30 mark.
“When we look at the epidemic curve, it’s not exponentially rising,” he said.
“We’re going to see a lot of cases, a lot of people in the home who have gotten infected. In England, 12.4 per cent of family contacts ended up getting infected with the Delta variant. (But) is it going to exponentially rise? I hope not, but we’ll see over the next three or four days.”
But he said he did not think Sydney was “going to go the way of Melbourne last year”.
“Case finding was nowhere near as good,” he said.
“The real crunch is how many mystery cases you have. If you start getting a whole lot of unlinked cases it means your contact tracers are overwhelmed. Once you’re getting 30 to 40 cases a day, it becomes very difficult to keep up with contact tracing.”
‘A week too late’
UNSW epidemiologist Professor Marylouise McClaws, a member of the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 response team, said NSW government’s failure to lock down earlier had put the whole country “at risk”.
“It’s a week too late,” she told The New Daily on Sunday.
“We need to learn, and learn fast. The rhetoric needs to be matched with action, the action needs to be improved.”
Prof McClaws has called for a national approach in the face of the much more contagious Delta variant.
“We need a rapid response to a variant of concern that is such a formidable warrior as this one is,” she said.
She told the outlet that governments “need to start improving the system” so people “don’t have to go through this horrendous physical and emotional rollercoaster” of lockdowns.
“When will the governments learn? When are we going to get a national system? I’m frustrated for the general public,” she said.
‘Stop this madness’
UNSW economist Gigi Foster slammed the move, saying there was no evidence lockdowns saved lives.
“We the people are the human sacrifice being offered by NSW leadership on the altar of ‘saving lives’ – when in fact there is no connection in a COVID world between shelter-in-place orders and lives saved,” she wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday.
Professor Foster said it was “not the fight of our lives against a fearsome pestilence”.
“It is politicians willingly sacrificing their people’s welfare, hoping the people see their actions as a sufficient offering,” she said. “It’s the modern analogue of killing virgins in the hope of getting a good harvest.”
Prof Foster said the NSW government had more than a year to realise the “enormous human costs” associated with lockdowns.
“Why are we still focusing rabidly on COVID when the country hasn’t lost a person with that disease since last year and hundreds of people are suffering and dying daily of all manner of other things?” she said.
“We need to stop this madness. Right now, we need to focus our attention and protection on the people in our population who are actually vulnerable to serious effects of this virus. We need to buy medicines and establish treatment protocols that work to reduce the severity of COVID symptoms, while offering vaccinations to anyone in vulnerable groups who wants them – with no compulsion, and no tethering of population vaccination rates to border openings.”