The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has refused to speculate on whether the state will emerge from lockdown by the end of August and has instead switched her rhetoric to achieving sufficient vaccination rates to loosen restrictions.
The premier however rejected suggestions that schools will not return to face-to-face classes until 2022, saying: “I can’t predict the future but I certainly am confident that schools will go back before then.”
NSW case numbers are remaining stubbornly high – there were 207 new cases recorded in the 24 hours to 8pm Sunday. This was a small improvement on Sunday when there were 239 cases – the equal highest level reached.
But the number who were infectious in the community – the measure the government says needs reach near zero before the lockdown can end – also remained high.
At least 50 of those were infectious in the community, 21 were in partial isolation and a further 46 were still under investigation.
While the chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said she remained focused on reducing community transmission to near zero, Berejiklian appeared to have shifted focus onto vaccination rates.
“Can I stress that August is the month where we all should come forward and get vaccinated,” she said. “It will be a combination of seeing where the case numbers are in a month’s time as well as the rate of vaccination that determines what August 29 looks like,” Berejiklian said.
“I have been saying for some months that 80% of the adult population vaccinated would get us freedoms beyond no more lockdowns and that is 10 million jabs.”
“When we get to five million jabs or 9.2 million jabs, which is the 70% number, we will be able to have a bit more freedom obviously than what we do today,” she said.
NSW has administered 3.9m jabs to date and is administering about 500,000 injections a day.
Australia-wide, 15.2% are fully vaccinated and a further 17.7% have had only one dose.
Reaching the 70% target or the 80% target would take months.
The government remains particularly concerned about very low vaccination rates among 20 to 40-year-olds, particularly in the hotspots.
“With Covid, it’s people in their 20s, 30s and 40s that are most mobile, that are between two generations … that are causing both getting the virus and spreading the virus. It is really important for us to get people aged between that 20-40 age group vaccinated as well,’ Berejiklian said.
Chant said a large number of this age group worked in industries that were essential to keep the city going. There had been a large number of cases in freight, but also cases in food distribution and processing, such as meatworks, she said.
Berejiklian defended diverting Pfizer doses from the Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour to vaccinate 16 to 18-year-old HSC students in the eight hotspot LGAs, even though those areas are in lockdown.
Pfizer is the only vaccine approved for under 18s and the government has announced plans to divert some of the state’s limited supplies from regional NSW to vaccinate 19,000 HSC students in Sydney hotspots.
Berejiklian is understood to have privately urged Chant to consider lifting the lockdowns in the Central Coast or Shellharbour and Wollongong, where there have been few cases, but the chief health officer remains concerned about movement for work between these areas and greater Sydney.
“We have had a few scares and cases in those regional areas but if those communities can demonstrate that they are close to zero or don’t have the virus circulating, the health experts will take that into account,” Berejiklian said.
The premier appeared unwilling at present to commit to incentive schemes such as allowing vaccinated people to attend football matches or bars in the future.
“Those other things are great and will come in good time but we have to appreciate that certainly everybody’s priority is getting kids back at school and getting workers back in their workplace.
“We have been having those conversations as a government about incentives and how to get people vaccinated and incentivise people to take care of themselves and their family and the broader community. That is on the table,” she said but added the priority was getting kids back to school.
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The NSW and commonwealth governments are dealing with an outbreak in an aged care home, Wyoming, in Summer Hill, after a partially vaccinated assistant nurse tested positive. Of the 61 residents, 18 patients and two staff have tested positive. Some 83% of the residents are vaccinated, and 73% of staff. It is understood a Christmas in July event contributed to the spread.
All 30 residents on the top floor of the facility have been moved to hospital.
But there are additional concerns because the assistant nurse worked across multiple nursing homes.