COVID crisis in NSW

Lock down hard or you’ll be stuck where you are until Christmas, NSW has been told by the Melbourne Burnet Institute, who did the modelling which helped Victoria escape its long lockdown in 2020.

Let me say at the outset that I agree with Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University’s Chair in Epidemiology, who said in an article in The Age that:

    harsh measures like a nightly curfew and kilometre limit might not be required in NSW.

    “I do think that the routes of transmission that they’re seeing in NSW should guide the interventions, not just putting things in place because they’ve been used elsewhere,” she said.

Back on June 24 Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told us Why a snap COVID-19 lockdown won’t work for Sydney’s Bondi outbreak. The Delta variant was already well and truly abroad and could not be reined in by a three-day lockdown like those other states had used.

Less than three weeks later with all of Sydney plus some adjacent areas locked down, harder than before, new cases rose from 11 to over 100. The virus was winning in the community:

On Monday, with the modelling released, Professor Tony Blakely told Patricia Karvelas Hard lockdown [is the] only option as COVID cases reach triple figures in NSW. The report included this scary graph:

The short story is that the Burnet modellers found that the Victorian restrictions at Stage 3 plus masks were similar to the NSW restrictions instituted from 9 July. On the assumption that the Delta variant is twice as infectious as the one the Victorians were dealing with, they found that cases would not decline significantly in the coming month unless NSW tightened restrictions further.

However, if NSW moved to the Stage 4 restrictions used by Victoria from 5 August 2020 then the outbreak could be made manageable within four or five weeks.

(Note: This Live Science comparison of coronavirus variants says that Delta is 60% more infectious than Alpha, which was 50% more infectious than the Wuhan strain. My maths says that makes Delta 2.4 times more infectious than Wuhan.)

This graphic contains the more detailed differences between the state scenarios:

Apart from the nightly curfew and kilometre limit, Victoria in Stage 4 shut down food courts, closed non-essential retail, and closed all but the most essential sectors of industry. Burnet could not model these factors separately, because they were all implemented together.

Some have said that NSW is having the lockdown when you don’t have a lockdown, because so much of the economy remained open. Certainly in NSW more discretion has been left with businesses and people.

As more retailers are designated ‘exposure sites’ and amid confusion about ‘essential work’ authorities are appealing to common sense.

One reason for allowing more activity to continue is that many people need to work to put bread on the table and pay for the roof over their heads. We need to remember that Victoria’s Stage 4 lockdown was made when JobKeeper was $1500 per fortnight, or $750 per week, which is equivalent to the basic wage. I suspect that the Commonwealth benefit of $500 per week, paid in Victoria this year during a lockdown after JobKeeper finished, would be significantly short of what most need to maintain a dignified existence.

Now NSW and the Commonwealth have come up with a joint plan of personal and industry support which lifts personal payments to $600 per week, and will cost $500 billion per week overall.

I can’t find a link, but Patricia Karvelis was told on ABC RN Drive yesterday that overall the package amounted to 2.5% of NSW state product. As such, the NSW economy would go backwards. Today the Commonwealth Bank found that the NSW event would see Australia’s GDP in negative territory for the September quarter, which could flow through to the December quarter, giving us a net recession.

Daniel Hunter, Business NSW CEO, told Karvelis how industry had been working with NSW and the Feds to come up with a workable package. Business confidence was improved by the fact that the Commonwealth was going to hand over industry support money for Services NSW to distribute. They hoped the NSW-Commonwealth deal might establish a new template that could help other states.

Jennifer Hewett in the AFR today captures the politics of the situation:

    The new package negotiated between Macquarie Street and Canberra allows both governments to come together to share the financial cost and try to limit the political pain.

    That made the joint press conference performance by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday a delicate exercise in political management. They had to demonstrate their two governments can cushion the impact of their mutual failures – but without publicly holding the other leader to account.

    It included repeated expressions of both leaders’ confidence about Australians’ ability to get through a very tough time with generous support from their state and federal governments “having their back”.

Instead of blaming each other both governments blamed the Delta variant and circumstances. No mention of Commonmwealth failures in quarantine or of botched vaccine acquisition and delivery.

The Victorian Government released a scathing statement on Tuesday afternoon:

    which stated residents were “sick and tired” of having to beg for help and that the support for NSW represented a “double standard”.

    “Everyone in Australia believes that people in Sydney and NSW deserve every possible support as they battle a second wave and a long lockdown,” the statement said.

    “But Victorians are rightly sick and tired of having to beg for every scrap of support from the federal government.”

    “It shouldn’t take a crisis in Sydney for the Prime Minister to take action but we are seeing the same double standard, time and time again.”

Victorians were constantly lectured last year, especially by Josh Frydenberg, about their quarantine failure, and the notion that if they had a contact tracing/testing/isolation system as good as the ‘gold standard’ of NSW, they would not need lockdowns. This year as Victoria fought a virus that escaped via a Victorian who had quarantined in Adelaide and subsequently showed up infected in Melbourne, they again copped jawboning rather than help.

It is completely unthinkable that the kind of cooperation we have just seen with NSW would happen between the Commonwealth Government and the current Queensland government. We get help on their terms, or not at all.

Because NSW is so large and so central, the rest of Australia will suffer damage but receive no support.

For example, Whitsunday tourism operators were hit immediately with cancellations. Yesterday I heard that bookings had recovered to 80% of capacity before the latest outbreaks, so there was finally some optimism after experiencing disrupted school holiday bookings for two years. Now interstate people are not just deferring, they are asking for their money back.

Last weekend questions were asked as to why Morrison, emerging from lockdown, would travel to Sydney. It is now clear that he did it to stand behind Gladys Berejiklian:

This, from the AFR, is the comparative trajectory of the current NSW outbreak compared with what happened in Victoria last year:

Rafael Epstein in asking some salient questions about the NSW event believes NSW is making the same mistakes that Victoria made last year.

Victoria is once again under virus attack, including over 2000 spectators having to isolate after going to the footy. It seems likely that a short sharp pre-emptive lockdown will occur.

If they do they will get no help from the Commonwealth unless the Commonwealth ‘hotspot’ is triggered, and a lockdown of more than 7 days has resulted.

It is possible that NSW and the Commonwealth have seriously underestimated the Delta variant, so that strict lockdowns are seen as a ‘last resort’ as contact tracing becomes overwhelmed.

Berejiklian says that the COVID beast will be defeated if people do as she asks.

In my humble opinion she should base her plans on what she thinks people will do, not on what they should do.

However, my hope is that she succeeds, in the interests of all.

28 thoughts on “COVID crisis in NSW”

  1. The number to watch is the number of new cases that have been wholly or partly abroad in the community before testing positive, ie the orange, red and likely some of the grey in the graph in the post.

    Over the last few days the number has stabilised. Today it was 28 of 65 cases, yesterday 24 out of a larger total.

    Berejiklian pointed out today that only from now on will they see the effects of tightening restrictions last weekend. She says the aim is to get that number down to one or two that haven’t been out and about much, then check all the data the CHO has access to and listen to the health advice.

    On the latter point, last year Berejiklian and Brad Hazzard were giving Annastacia Palaszczuk a pasting for hiding behind the health advice.

    Having heard treasurer Dominic Perrottet interviewed today, I think following health advice may be an attractive alternative to cabinet discussion.

    I’ve been listening to the NSW press conferences on NewsRadio most days. They normally run for about 45 minutes. Today the press were angry, hostile and hectoring, calling for more clarity and direction.

    It’s not possible for me to have a sense of what it’s like in Sydney right now, but Berejiklian keeps asking for less movement than she is getting, and it sounds like it’s not working to her satisfaction.

    The latest problem seems to be infections past in pharmacies and medical centres, where people are going for help when they feel ill.

  2. From the AFR today, the metrics from CBA are a forecast hit of 1.4% to Australian GDP for the September quarter, making for a negative 0.7% outcome.

    Meanwhile Victoria is expected to go into lockdown from tonight.

    Predictably, the leader of the opposition thinks differently:

      “This is not what we needed not where we should be, we can’t keep going into lockdown when we get 10 or 12 cases in the community,”

    News just through, it’s a hard lockdown for Victoria for 5 days from tonight.

    Andrews says you only get one chance to go hard and early. They say it’s two chains of transmission, but faster than anything seen before. One is from the man who was infected by the furniture removalists from Sydney, who went to the footy with his mate, infected him, who carried it to a school while two others at the footy were infected, and so it goes.

  3. The ABC has an excellent statistical compendium of all aspects of Charting the COVID-19 spread in Australia.

    I also found this opinion piece from Prof Catherine Bennett – Did Sydney’s lockdown come too late? Here’s why it’s not that simple written late last month.

    I find myself in agreement with her that every health authority needs to make their decisions in real time in the context of their own situation. I tend to think that NSW and Victoria are similar in that they have large cities at the centre.

    My difference would be in the treatment of risk. She asks whether you should take pre-emptive action just in case there might be a super-spreader event like the party where everyone no vaccinated was infected.

    She suggests, no, I would lean to yes.

  4. Just heard on the news that the Commonwealth is going to support people affected by losing work in the Victorian lockdown.

    It seems peace might be breaking out.

  5. Today national Cabinet failed to accept the deals done for NSW and Victoria as a new national template, but the intent is that the Feds will provide support if the Chief Health Officer deems their lockdown worthy. What this would mean in practice is hard to foresee.

    I’m not sure I made the point in the post, but I kinda feel sorry for Gladys B on this one. She has tried to plot a path that is least disruptive for those who live in her state. Today once again the numbers did not go her way, and everyone (almost) is telling her she must make hard decisions.

    Not everyone, actually, and specifically not Prof Margaret Hellard, who led the Burnet modelling (she’s in the first segment of ABC RN Drive tonight) or Professor Gemma Carey, Director of Centre for Social Impact UNSW in the second segment.

    The fact is that many people are living on the margin and simply can’t afford to miss a few hours work a week, especially when they are in one of the world’s most expensive cities.

    The Commonwealth got the level of support about right last year, but left a couple of million people outside their circle of care. This time there will be people left out as well, and many will simply not get enough.

  6. I heard most of the NSW press conference today.

    The numbers are still essentially flatlining, the NSW authorities have responded with a significantly tighter lockdown. I won’t go into detail, because I’m relying onm memory, but non-essential retail has been closed, the building industry has been closed down, and home repairs are only allowed if safety or essential work is a factor.

    The virus has been pretty well contained within the SW Sydney area and has not migrated to the provincial areas. Greater limitations apply to moving in and out of the city.

    Dr Kerry Chant said she did much of her medical practice in SW Sydney, so understands how the community works and what needs to happen to keep people fed and safe.

    We’ll need to wait 5-7 days to see whether it all works.

  7. I’m tired today. Could have to do with having my second AstraZeneca shot. Of interest, I was first on the list for AZ today, just after Red Hill Doctors had been running a session of dispensing Pfizer. I think we are due to get a million a week from about next week, so things are looking up. In the AFR a bloke called Christoper Joye, who represents a group which does modelling for business, reckons a vaccine rollout to all who are going to get it is feasible by Jan or Feb next year.

    The AFR has about half a dozen articles on COVID, with many different views. Eg. we learn that Janet Albrechtson has given up on supporting Morrison on the virus, and regards Gladys Berejiklian’s Delta elimination strategy as dystopian:

      “I used to have fabulous dreams,” she said. “Now I have just one. ‘That I never hear from an epidemiologist again.'”
  8. Brian: Sober reading: “England will soon abandon almost all coronavirus restrictions. The Netherlands shows what could happen next.”
    At the start of July, nightclubs reopened and thousands of young people flocked to music festivals around the country.
    If you had a state-issued QR pass on your smartphone showing you were fully vaccinated, had recovered from COVID-19 or had a recent negative test, you were free to party like pre-pandemic days.
    One such “test for entry” event was the Verknipt festival in Utrecht held on the first weekend of July.
    With 20,000 people in attendance, the open-air electronic music festival featured no masks and no social distancing.
    Utrecht’s mayor Sharon Dijksma even scored a ticket, saying at the time the feeling of being around so many people as “special and a little tense”.
    However: “But two weeks since Verknipt, the results have been stark – around 1,000 people who attended the festival are known to have been infected with COVID-19 over the two-day event.
    Ms Dijksma apologised and said she now thinks the 40-hour time frame for accepting negative tests to get into the festival was wrong.
    “It was an error in judgement,” she told Dutch broadcaster NOS on Wednesday.
    Infections jump 500 per cent in a week
    Before the folly of the Verknipt festival had come light, the Dutch government had already started backtracking on restrictions.
    By July 7, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the government had acknowledged a sharp rise in infections – new infections had doubled to 8,000 in the week ending Tuesday, July 6 – and was requesting urgent advice from the country’s outbreak management team.”
    There are some things like wearing masks that don’t make much difference to people’s lives but do reduce infections per infected persons – Yet pollies want to do it all in one rush.

  9. Is the Indian variant more deadly than the original China virus?

    I’ve seen conflicting information but I’m thinking way less lethal.

  10. No,no.
    Searched and found plenty but on balance it looks less lethal. Despite all the smoke and bullshit in the media one has to balance the weights and make a call.

    What exactly was your comment supposed to achieve other than prove you’re a troll ?

  11. Actually it was to point out that all the information available to us is available to you. If you genuinely want an answer you should be questioning someone who has more information than anyone here.
    It might help if you clarify what you mean by “more deadly”. And it would also make sense to include all of the variants. From my very brief scan it appears the UK variant is the most dangerous at the moment. YMMV.

  12. Is the Indian variant more deadly than the original China virus?

    The first response to this must be, “Depends on where you live”, since most of the deaths attributable to Covid-19 in places like (for example) Trump’s USA, Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and Johnson’s UK were actually due to an incompetent response to the threat rather than any inherent properties of the virus.

  13. Brian: “Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk leaves for Tokyo Olympics to support Brisbane bid for 2032 Games.”
    her quarantine.
    “An online petition with more than 130,000 signatures demanded that Ms Palaszczuk be refused permission to travel overseas due to her successful push alongside other state premiers to halve the cap on Australians returning home to limit the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19.
    There are approximately 34,000 Australians who have indicated to the federal government they would like to return to Australia from overseas, with some fearing the reduction would make their efforts to get home even harder.”

  14. John, the LNP are pathetic if they have nothing better to talk about than who pays for Palaszczuk’s hotel quarantine.

    She is going to represent us. Not to go would be like putting in a job application and not showing up for the interview.

    I’m not wild about us hosting the Olympics, but Palszczuk’s trip to Tokyo has nothing to do with how many people the quarantine system can handle. I was going to post about it, but missed the bus.

    In brief, from memory, Scotty’s mob were gradually opening the joint up by approving more than the agreed numbers. When it came to a head Border Force had lumbered us with 280 + for the day, without prior notice (normal is 1300 pw max, or 185 pd). Qld Police who run quarantine here had to go out and find another hotel. We actually don’t have hotels standing empty in Brisbane. I think there are 16 at present devoted to quarantine.

    When that is the situation you have to find more staff in a tight market, and can’t be too choosy about whether the hotel is suitable.

    Apparently Sydney has hotels, because they are an international city.

    On Q&A David Speers put it to Palaszczuk that she had the right to reject the extra people. Palaszczuk said, it doesn’t work that way on the ground, legally and ethically we have to take whoever Border Force lets in.

    Steven Miles reckoned that people seem to be getting permission to move in and out for fairly trivial reasons, and went to the ABS to find that Border Force were letting in over 100,000 pd.

    They were. However, half of them were Kiwis and lots of others were on the business of the crown. So the Feds started point scoring, telling Miles he was an idiot. In fact the ABS figure showed that minus Kiwis, there was a significant upward trend.

    The Feds conceded, because there was agreement with all states except NSW, and they agreed to that Border Force would improve its communication and act a bit collaboratively.

    I know all this because I listened to the media conferences on NewRadio. However, journalists were too busy being snarky to write what they heard, and made out that Palaszczuk was just doing it to be political and cover for stuffing up when a young woman on the front desk of the Prince Charles hospital, contracted COVID from a helicopter pilot working FIFO in Indonesia until the bug got him.

    She wasn’t in the COVID ward and at the time I think Qld Health had 2/3 of its health workers fully vaccinated, whereas only 1 in 6 aged care workers were fully jabbed.

    Speers, as you know is a rude bugger, and didn’t want to believe what Palaszczuk told him. She said that states had agreed to do hotel quarantine last year as an interim measure to help out the Commonwealth for a few months while it got its act together, which turned out to be never.

  15. Jumpy, NSW has 18 in ICU and 7 of those being ventilated. Earlier Kerry Chant had been specific that young people were included.

    There is also the issue of ‘long COVID’.

    No-one does a clean experiment on this thing. Getting it in Indonesia, or Brazil, is different from getting it in coutries with advaned medical systems.

    I suspect Boris J is relying on luck and herd immunity. In the UK deaths were over 1200 pd at one stage, then a while ago they came down to single figures on the 7-day average, now they are over 40 and trending up.

    Hans van Leeuwen had an article in the AFR In Britain, the herd immunity experiment the whole world is watching. He says:

      Hospital admissions are ticking up – there are now more than 500 a day – but this is a fraction of the 4000-plus daily total seen in January.

    He says that if deaths are kept at the current level COVID will be no worse than the flu.

    That may be acceptable in a place were there has been so much dying. It would not be acceptable here.

    Only 5 people have died from Covid in Qld, and no-one since April last year. Many people voted for Palaszczuk last year because they believe she has kept us safe and the other one, Ms Frecklington, said 62 times we should open up, before she flipped.

    Hans v L says:

      But perhaps the surge in infections could leave huge numbers of people with debilitating “long COVID”. And perhaps it might allow a new, vaccine-busting variant to emerge; one that could then feed back into the inoculated population, sending Britain, like Australia, right back down the bottom of the pandemic’s snakes-and-ladders board.

      That’s the gamble Johnson is taking. If he’s right, he’ll be a messiah. If he’s wrong, he will never be forgiven.

    • Another pointer for the totally non-racist Man of Mackay.
      The Delta (nee Indian) variant is going great guns in Florida.
      Of course this is actually another demonstration of how obstinate incompetency makes things easy for the virus.

    • It’s not just deaths, it is incapacitation as well. If you wind up in an ICU your prospects for a life as usual afterwards are significantly reduced. That’s not something you get with the standard flu.

      Just had my first Pfizer shot.

    • Saw my GP today for a routine visit, asked her how their vaccination program was going.

      They are working their way through the 40-50 yr-olds with Pfizer, as well as mopping up with second AZ jabs.

      She had a rant about the baby boomers. Many of them rejected AZ and insisted on waiting for Pfizer. She pointed out that thereby they were slowing the rollout of Pfizer to people who really needed it.

      She said the Gen X were far easier to deal with and more likely to respect doctors’ advice.

    • Of course this is actually another demonstration of how obstinate incompetency makes things easy for the virus.

      Above I wrote: Of course this is actually another demonstration of how obstinate incompetency makes things easy for the virus.
      I should have written: Of course this is actually another demonstration of how criminal recklessness makes things easy for the virus.

    • A few new things.

      Jennifer Hewett in the AFR has declared Victoria to be the new ‘gold standard’.

      Thing is, Victoria are not sure they can beat the Delta variant, which has now snuck into SA. Yesterday at 2am the authorities knew they had one popping up. By midday the next day there were five, so they locked down.

      A Monash modeller has come up with 5 as the magic number. If you have five who have been loose in the community, you are about to lose control.

      That’s all very well, but I think states need to do the best they can in their own situation. It depends who the infected people are, where they’ve been and how it all fits together, plus what tools you have at your disposal.

      Dan Andrews said he wouldn’t mind NSW getting priority with vaccinations. They did this in Canada to help Montreal out where the virus was bad, it seems.

      Hunt said it would be strictly according to state population. Thing is they don’t understand need in Canberra.

      No-one is talking about Queensland, but we have another one too. Student in Melbourne, vaccinated, stopped on the Sunny Coast on her way back to Atherton Tableland. CHO says we’ll contact trace etc, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

      I think our sporting crowds are a disaster waiting to happen.

      Meanwhile Boris Johnson is taking the action you would take if you pretended you had done your bit, and now it’s up to everyone else, and why not give the virus its best chance of developing a new more infectious strain.

    • BTW Alan Kohler worked out that if people younger than 40 have AstraZeneca they have a 0.00044% chance of dying from blood clots.

      That is not no chance, and it depends on public tolerance.

      When Jeanette Young our CEO said she did not want to see a young person dying from AZ she was speaking as CHO in Qld, where we have had five deaths, none since April 2020, and if you vaccinate say 2 million younger Queenslanders, on average you would expect to see 8.8 deaths (my maths could be wrong, but check it out).

      I can assure you that if she had encouraged younger people to see their GP and get the AZ jab, and one died, the journalists she was talking to would come to get her.

      It was good to hear respectful journalists in Adelaide today.

    • If you can read these two (first SMH, second AFR) please do:

      Gladys B was right when she called a national emergency. It’s in all our interest to get it sorted, but ‘national’ cabinet failed.

      Morrison and Frydenberg show no sign that they are up to the job of industry and personal income support.

      BTW, Qld wasn’t at the meeting. When the link to Palaszczuk in Tokyo was insecure, Morrison would not accept acting premier Steven Miles. The CEO of our Health Department was allowed to sit in.

    • Alan Kohler: “The Delta strain means the exit plan has to mutate as well.”
      Key scary statement: “The truth is that the Delta variant has completely changed the game and herd immunity through vaccination has become difficult, if not impossible.

      Professor Tony Blakely of the University of Melbourne explains that the new R0 number of COVID-9 is five (that’s the number of people one infected person infects, on average), which means that 80 per cent of people (four out of every five) have to be immune to prevent the virus from spreading.

      But Professor Blakely added that because no vaccine is 100 per cent effective – Pfizer is 80 per cent and AstraZeneca 60 per cent – 90 per cent of people have to be vaccinated to achieve 80 per cent immunity.
      Vaccinating 90 per cent of the total population, including children and anti-vaxxers is basically impossible, especially with the confusion around whether to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
      Time for plan Z??????
      The good news is that the above calcs are simplistic. The new covid RO5 could be driven down by strategies such as:
      Using facemasks.
      More rigid social distancing.
      Using temperatures as a quick test. (Most of the symptoms are rather vague and the isolation after testing is a real negative.
      Speed up test results.
      Limit isolation after testing to encourage testing.
      Random testing. And….

    • Jeez, John, I missed this comment, and missed the Kohler article, which is strange because I usually keep and eye on the New Daily.

      Thing is I spent last night and this night trying to do something somewhat similar.

      I think we are going to have to look at mandatory vaccination if people want to participate in the benefits of social living.

      Kohler says:

        If the Doherty Institute says the Delta mutation prevents any realistic chance of achieving total herd immunity, the exit plan will have to shift to making sure all Australians have the opportunity to be vaccinated, and then to limit the activities of those who refuse. No jab, no footy or travel.

      I don’t think we can vaccinate children under 12 until research has been done on the effects.

      I’ve got a bit more to say. Might still do a post.

    • Here is the Covid dashboard for the Netherlands.

      Total infections, … over 10% of the population.
      Total Deaths … 17,801

      Population 17 million.

      What is the difference to Australia?

      Two thirds of Australia’s population living in two thirds the area of Tasmania.

      Australia benefits from the population being spread out. ie being clustered together increases infection rates. Look at how rapidly the infection rate sky rockets when restrictions come off (last peak).

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