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A hard lockdown across Sydney for the next three days is needed to reduce the risk of Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve becoming super spreader events, health experts say.
The dual celebrations could lead to thousands of new cases in the first weeks of 2021 without drastic action, warned Prof Raina MacIntyre, the head of the biosecurity program at the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute.
MacIntyre said the vast number of people moving around to see family and friends on Christmas Day would create a surge in infections. Six days later, on New Year’s Eve, this spike could be magnified as people gather to see off 2020.
“People who get infected today and who got infected yesterday, are going to be at their peak infectiousness on Christmas Day … there are six days between Christmas and New Year’s so everybody who’s infected on Christmas Day will be at their peak infectiousness on New Year’s Eve.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday that the government would make a “final call” about what Christmas would look like on Wednesday.
However, MacIntyre said it was imperative to get case numbers as low as possible by locking down the city until Christmas Eve.
“I think waiting to see what’s happened by Wednesday is too late. We want to reduce transmission as much as possible we should be having a Sydney-wide lockdown today and then reviewing it on Thursday. That will greatly reduce transmission,” she said.
MacIntyre also called for the cancellation of most indoor New Year’s Eve events, saying only open-air, well-ventilated celebrations should be allowed to take place.
However, hospitality and event businesses in Sydney say the loss of Christmas and New Year’s Eve income would be devastating.
Michel Beirouthy, operations manager at Vagabond Cruises, said it would be devastating if they could not run their New Year’s Eve cruises on Sydney Harbour.
“You rely on New Year’s Eve, which is usually a high ticket event, to carry you through the lower part of the year where customers are scarcer. Add to that the fact that we haven’t operated in the last eight or nine months,” he said.
“A cancellation of that sort, if we were required to pay out refunds that would obviously be a huge concern for our business.”
He said the company had already been hit by border closures and the cancellation of the Sydney to Hobart boat race.
While residents on Sydney’s northern beaches are under stay-at-home orders, restrictions for Greater Sydney still allow gatherings of up to 10 people at homes and 300 people in restaurants and cafes. While face masks are encouraged, they are not mandated.
NSW recorded 15 new cases on Monday, a decrease from numbers across the weekend, all of which were linked directly with the Avalon cluster. Berejiklian said this was a good sign leading up to Christmas.
“Things go up and down. If we see the trend continue in the next few days obviously that will give us more confidence to look at that Thursday and Friday,” she said.
“We know for many cultures and for many people, Christmas Eve is as important as Christmas Day. So we are considering all of that in our decision-making, but we also need to get it right and to date, I’m very pleased with the balance we have in New South Wales … It is very volatile. So we need to make sure we leave it until the last possible moment before we make a decision.”
MacIntyre gave the hypothetical example that if there were 40 people freshly infected on Monday this could easily become 120 infectious people in the community on Christmas Day, assuming the virus’ reproductive number has increased to three due to high densities at shopping centres, large church services, and family gatherings around Christmas.
“If there are 120 people infectious on Christmas day, then they will infect 360 people that day. Those 360 people will be at their most infectious on New Year’s Eve … If all the parties and night clubs go ahead we could have more than a thousand cases arising from New Year’s Eve. We could have 3,000 cases by the second week,” she said.
The number of people who travel across the city and into the regions on Christmas could also compromise the ability to contain the Sydney outbreak to the northern beaches, MacIntyre said.
“We have to recognise that this is quite a unique situation because of these two fixed dates and the cultural importance of these dates,” she said.
“It doesn’t have to be that way if we do something drastic.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Hard lockdown needed to prevent Sydney Christmas Covid surge, health experts warn | Australia news