NSW hubris increases COVID-19 risks with softly, softly approach

Ian Bushnell 4 January 2021 46
COVID-19 warning sign after Sydney outbreak. Photo: David Murtagh.

Canberrans saw the warning signs as soon as the Sydney outbreak hit. Photo: David Murtagh.

Surely the Premier State’s so-called gold standard approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic has lost some of its lustre after the past few weeks of softly, softly responses to first the Northern Beaches outbreak and now the inner-west cluster.

From the outset, experts outside NSW Health questioned whether Gladys Berejiklian’s government was doing enough, calling for tougher restrictions to contain the virus.

But the Premier did not want to be the Christmas Grinch, and the rationale was all about balancing the need to stop the virus spreading, the mental health of Sydneysiders and, of course, the economy.

The tone was apologetic, and the measures reluctant and minimal. There was no South Australia-style lockdown to kill the outbreak.

Attending the New Year’s Eve fireworks was banned only after becoming obvious to everyone that the annual party would be a super spreader event.


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Even now, after the virus has been exported to Victoria, the confirmation of a separate inner-west cluster, cases in Wollongong, and the potential for cases to emerge on the Far South Coast thanks to a couple of Victorian holidayers who had previously been in Sydney, the NSW Government continues to talk in terms of ”should” do this or ”it would be in your best interests” to do that, as if measures were optional.

At least it finally mandated the wearing of masks indoors, but the tippy-toeing around what people needed to do has only made the situation worse.

It was no surprise at all that other states re-imposed hard borders to keep any further carriers out.

The danger to a COVID-free ACT at this time of the year was clear right from the start, with Sydney only a few hours away and so many Canberrans on the move, particularly on the South Coast.

And despite advice to people in the NSW hotspot areas not to travel to the ACT, they kept coming, giving the government no choice but to impose border controls and quarantine measures.

When the Victorian quarantine breaches resulted in the deadly spread of the virus and the shutdown that followed, that state suffered relentless political attacks from the Commonwealth, mostly in the form of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who could see his economic credentials going up in smoke and who also wanted to shore up the parlous condition of the Liberal opposition in his home state.

NSW was held up as the standard by which other states should measure their performance. Now it too has breaches that still have the potential for the virus to explode out of control and not just within its borders.

So instead of Ms Berejiklian patting her citizens on the back, holding opaque press conferences and complaining about border closures, she should show a bit more urgency, come clean with the public and get realistic about what is needed.

What isn’t needed is 20,000 people pouring into the SCG for the Australia-India Test, and again it shows her reluctance to take tough decisions.

What we have also learned is that after a year of COVID-19, somehow international travellers, whether they be the rich and famous, diplomats or flight crews, have been able to claim quarantine exemptions, or in the case of flight crews, flout their arrangements.

The source of the Northern Beaches outbreak remains a mystery, except for the virus being a US variant. That traveller came and went, leaving a COVID-19 calling card.

The inner-west cluster centred on a bottle shop has now been revealed to be sourced from a transport worker who delivered a family returning from overseas to a health facility.


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All this shows that there remain gaps in the system that is supposed to protect the health of Australians and that the gaps need to be closed.

With the virus raging in other parts of the world, Australia’s island status is the nation’s strength and greatest protection.

While the Prime Minister has been happy to defer to the states, it is the Commonwealth which is responsible for the country’s borders and quarantine measures.

A little less political cheerleading and more national leadership are required as we head into what will be another dangerous phase in the pandemic.


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46 Responses to NSW hubris increases COVID-19 risks with softly, softly approach
Henry Rodrigoe Henry Rodrigoe 8:02 pm 04 Jan 21

Visiting the Riverina?

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:34 pm 04 Jan 21

People who think that the answer to every positive Covid 19 test in a jurisdiction is a lockdown (whether “short and sharp” or “long and hard”) until vaccines are rolled out, should reflect carefully upon the practical implications of these comments from Professor Paul Kelly’s press conference on 16 December 2020 –

“……at the moment, unfortunately, the vaccines that we know most about don’t appear to demonstrate any protection from transmission of the virus.

They are very effective at stopping disease from the virus in an individual person, but it may well be that that transmission might continue.”

Full transcript here –

https://www.health.gov.au/news/acting-chief-medical-officer-press-conference-about-covid-19-on-16-december-2020

    Maya123 Maya123 12:57 am 05 Jan 21

    More reason to get vaccinated, and repeat the vaccination if necessary. Anti-vaxers will have to take their chances.

JC JC 5:41 pm 04 Jan 21

For the record the “so called” Gold Standard monika was given by the PM and was specifically related to contract tracing.

And frankly overall I believe the way NSW has approached things has been the most balanced of all states and territories.

I leave the ACT out of this as we have not really had hard decisions to make for the most part.

Corey Karl Corey Karl 2:20 pm 04 Jan 21

What !!! More whinging Canberrans...... I don’t believe it !! Was the editor just as scathing in relation to QLD with its closed borders, turning away its own citizens returning from hospital in nsw, but allowing football matches to be played ??? Or are we happy to be hypocritical only when we feel like it ??? This is the new normal, and caution should be applied but I don’t think shutting down an entire state’s economy over a dozen cases a day is the answer.

    Darren Goodwin Darren Goodwin 2:51 pm 04 Jan 21

    Corey Karl mate comment on ACT matters when you pay taxes here thanks, you new south Welshman are all the same

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 4:46 pm 04 Jan 21

    Darren Goodwin hahaha I paid plenty there thanks, and continue to do so, so yes, I will have my say Thankyou

    Darren Goodwin Darren Goodwin 5:15 pm 04 Jan 21

    Corey Karl is your place of residence NSW

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 7:13 pm 04 Jan 21

    Darren Goodwin 28 years in ACT, I’m qualified !!! Doesn’t matter where I live now. And if the place wasn’t run by halfwits, I’d probably still be there

Bety Ritchie Bety Ritchie 1:37 pm 04 Jan 21

Hope you didn’t go to Sydney last weekend Jin Sung 😅

Andrea Lloyd Andrea Lloyd 12:49 pm 04 Jan 21

Gladys is an idiot. Just another stupid decision to add to her ever growing list 🤬!

Paula Simcocks Paula Simcocks 11:27 am 04 Jan 21

Agreed with writer but bit beating around the Bush- Morrison has shown no clear leadership during bushfires nor Pandemic, lost complete credibility with me, only gets away with it as we are too busy coping with crises.

Andy Ross Andy Ross 11:06 am 04 Jan 21

Cam Brown a few good points mentioned in this article. Read and weep.

    Cam Brown Cam Brown 11:14 am 04 Jan 21

    Andy Ross whether too soon, too late, too soft, or too hardline, I’m happy to wear a mask wherever and whenever advised. I’m glad(ys) I’m not the one having to make the tough decisions 😷👍🏽

Sher Young Sher Young 10:24 am 04 Jan 21

Stop blaming and become responsible. We all know what we need to do, the ACT has done an outstanding job thus far. I’m continually impressed with business who haven’t dropped the ball since the challenge started. Thanks to all who go above and beyond.

David Perkins David Perkins 10:09 am 04 Jan 21

Gladys was more interested in keeping small business open than stopping the virus. Not a leader.

Mark Dawson Mark Dawson 9:57 am 04 Jan 21

I think it is time that all Australian Governments no longer exempt anyone including Diplomats from quarantine hotels. It is we humans who are the plague rats and SARS-CoV-2 doesn't care about our political or societal status - every human can be a carrier no matter our place in society.

Andrew Toy Andrew Toy 8:46 am 04 Jan 21

Good article

I agree with ACT borders checkpoints BUT they should be permanent and on all roads not just the random ones we currently have.

Also the Federal Government should CLOSE the international borders

    Jason Duarte Jason Duarte 4:32 pm 04 Jan 21

    What about those 38,000 aussie expats wanting to come home?

    Andrew Toy Andrew Toy 4:51 pm 04 Jan 21

    Jason Duarte they have had plenty of time

    9 months to be exact

    Tis what it is

James Anderson James Anderson 8:13 am 04 Jan 21

Ah the Canberra bubble.... isn’t it great to live somewhere that has very little if ever international flights and an economy that solely exists due to the public sector.

    Shane Westmore Shane Westmore 8:49 am 04 Jan 21

    the Canberra airport CEO originally wanted to start up Canberra-Wellington direct flights sometime before April

    Narelle Ford Narelle Ford 9:07 am 04 Jan 21

    James Anderson you’re wrong about the economy.

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 9:42 am 04 Jan 21

    James Anderson fact check needed please! Canberra is now approx 50% public sector

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 12:48 pm 04 Jan 21

    James Anderson

    Where 66% work in private industry

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 12:48 pm 04 Jan 21

    Margaret Freemantle

    Far less

    Angela Giblin Angela Giblin 2:06 pm 04 Jan 21

    James Anderson It always amazes me that Australians, including many politicians, both state and federal, take such pleasure in all sorts of often ridiculous and insulting comments about Canberra. Such comments are never made about other Australian capital cities. Canberra had to exist because the Federation had to have a federal capital, i.e. not one of the pre-existing state capital cities. The word "bubble" referring to Canberra is used in so many pejorative ways - can you define it? Are there no other places/people which/who can be described as being in a " bubble"? How often have you visited Canberra? It is your national capital city...

    Margaret Freemantle Margaret Freemantle 4:10 pm 04 Jan 21

    Stephen Page-Murray thanks Stephen- clearly not existing purely for the public service

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 4:17 pm 04 Jan 21

    Margaret Freemantle

    Been many a year since it was

    Gail Wittich Gail Wittich 10:46 pm 04 Jan 21

    Angela Giblin sadly, he lives in Canberra!

    Angela Giblin Angela Giblin 9:55 am 05 Jan 21

    Gail Wittich Why? If he hates it so much?

    Gail Wittich Gail Wittich 12:59 pm 05 Jan 21

    Angela Giblin I am sure I don’t know. That might be a question for him.

chewy14 chewy14 7:54 am 04 Jan 21

And yet despite NSW’s more reasonable and measured restrictions there has so far been no major outbreak like what occurred in Victoria with still only minimal case numbers, almost all of which are linked to known cases and not one patient in ICU.

So perhaps rather than wondering where NSW has failed, maybe you should wonder why they are succeeding at present?

Instead of the instant knee-jerk reaction that we immediately need hard lockdowns and harshly mandated restriction and bans as a first response, Perhaps it’s time for the author to admit that there can be balance?

And if you really want to look at where every single recent failure in containment has occurred, it’s from overseas travellers returning to Australia and in hotel quarantine.

So maybe, it’s time to take more drastic measures there by utilising offshore quarantine at Christmas island or building a purpose built facility in a remote area where workers would FIFO rather than being directly linked to the general populace?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 7:53 am 04 Jan 21

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are the “national leader”, Ian.

What is your plan to solve the problem and how would you enforce it?

Teresa Layton Teresa Layton 7:41 am 04 Jan 21

Why are we not insisting on a negative test result before letting people from overseas in?

    Gai Hodgson Wilson Gai Hodgson Wilson 7:56 am 04 Jan 21

    Teresa Layton because it is still no guarantee they don’t have it. For example, they could have been exposed at the airport they left from and not test positive for another 10 days after that.

    In healthcare we use Universal Precautions- assume everybody is an infection risk and take precautions for everybody.

    Martin Budden Martin Budden 8:19 am 04 Jan 21

    Gai Hodgson Wilson it wouldn't guarantee they don't have it, that's true. But it would significantly reduce the number of infected people arriving, thereby reducing the risk of further outbreaks.

    Joy Carrodus Joy Carrodus 8:31 am 04 Jan 21

    Teresa Layton I just wish they would stop people coming in. I know my comment will upset people but sadly there are a lot of people that don't do the right thing. So here we are again!

    Jackie White Jackie White 9:55 am 04 Jan 21

    Martin Budden no it wouldn't, because a test is only a moment in time. The result can change less than 24 hours later. You can have a negative test AND have it, with the positive result not showing for several days after the negative.

    To ensure NO infected person came into the country, you would have to quarantine every single person for 14+ days and have negative tests BEFORE allowing them on a flight. I can't see that happening, what with the way other countries are responding to this pandemic.

    Martin Budden Martin Budden 9:58 am 04 Jan 21

    Jackie White yes, I know that.

    BUT: at the moment there are people who are positive and (would) test positive being allowed on planes to Australia, because the test is not being done. These people could easily be tested and kept out, resulting in fewer cases in our hotel quarantine system and therefore fewer chances for outbreaks.

    Martin Budden Martin Budden 10:04 am 04 Jan 21

    I'm not saying it would pick up all cases in returning travellers, it wouldn't. I'm saying it would pick up some cases, which is better than the current situation of detecting none of them until after they arrive.

Acton Acton 7:37 am 04 Jan 21

Be careful what you wish for. The role of media is to challenge any Government removal of civil liberties. Not act as a cheer squad to draconian measures, applauding them and urging more.
This allows governments to pass oppressive laws in the name of ‘battling’ the pandemic.
Civicus is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists. Civicus’s latest report, “Attack on people power”, says the Asia Pacific region has seen “attempts by numerous governments to stifle dissent by censoring reports of state abuses, including in relation to their handling of the pandemic”.
It cites increased surveillance and tracking – currently used for contact tracing – as well as the imposition of strict laws intended to stifle any criticism as some of the ways in which this happens.
Given that many of these measures are introduced as a response to the pandemic, there is little to no resistance against them.
When a docile and unquestioning media fails in its duty to vigilantly defend civil liberties, society moves closer to totalitarianism. So be very careful what you wish for.

Alan Rose Alan Rose 7:32 am 04 Jan 21

The moral of the story is you can’t trust people to do the right thing. Christmas was the super spreader event for this one. Still having the cricket go ahead in Sydney is a joke, we are being told to stay at home don’t go to Sydney but then they put the cricket ahead of people’s health. How many will die this time.

    Matty Rohrlach Matty Rohrlach 8:56 am 04 Jan 21

    Alan Rose Allen for PM ✅

    Julie Maynard Julie Maynard 11:47 am 04 Jan 21

    Alan Rose it’s a joke! The government can’t pick and choose!

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