‘Fleeting contact’: Masks mandatory on Sydney public transport as outbreak grows

Residents turned out to get tested at a drive-through clinic at Bondi in Sydney on Thursday.

Residents turned out to get tested at a drive-through clinic at Bondi in Sydney on Thursday. Photo: AAP

Sydneysiders will be required to wear masks on public transport for at least the next five days amid rising alarm at the COVID outbreak spreading across the city’s eastern suburbs.

The state confirmed one additional case of coronavirus in the community on Friday – believed to have been picked up through “fleeting contact” with an infected person.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was a man in his 50s, who shopped at Bondi Junction.

“It appears from CCTV cameras that it could have been a very fleeting contact between the infectious person and this gentleman in Bondi Junction,” Ms Berejiklian said.

That brings the outbreak that began with a Bondi airport driver to four infections. All are the virulent Delta strain of virus.

Mask requirements will apply to greater Sydney until at least next Wednesday. The Central Coast, Illawarra and Wollongong are not included.

“For the next five days we want everybody to wear masks on public transport to make sure that if the virus is circulating it doesn’t spread on public transport,” Ms Berejiklian said.

One possible infection in a Baulkham Hills man, reported on Thursday, is also being considered a positive case after an expert panel was unable to decide it was a historic infection.

Ms Berejiklian said no further virus restrictions would be introduced at this stage, but that may change as the situation unfolds.

“Our intention is that this is how we lead our way through this current number of cases. But if there is anything unexpected that occurs or the situation changes of course we will have back and asked the community to do more,” she said.

“We don’t want to move at this stage but we have room to move if the situation worsens or something unexpected happens.”

Chief health officer Kerry Chant said more exposure venues would be added throughout Friday. Others would be elevated to level one sites, as evidence of the “remote transmission” of the virus emerged.

“Given the emerging evidence of the initial case’s highly infectious status, NSW Health will review all of his other exposure sites and may upgrade several from casual to close contact venues,” she said.

“We have observed these transmissions in settings where we would normally see outdoor dining as a lower-risk setting and we would normally see shopping centres as a lower-risk setting, where you are unlikely to have close contact.”

Sydney’s potential exposure venues already include a cinema and shopping centre in Bondi Junction, shops in Castle Hill, cafes in Vaucluse and North Ryde, a car wash in Redfern and stores in Zetland, including at the East Village Shopping Centre.

  • See an updated list of exposure sites here

They also include the Harris Farm in Leichhardt and Northmead Bowling Club.

The latest cluster emerged on Wednesday, when an unvaccinated limousine driver from Sydney’s east and his wife were diagnosed. A woman in her 70s was subsequently infected at a Vaucluse cafe frequented by the couple.

“Transmission must have occurred through fleeting exposure, noting that the person who caught the infection at the cafe was seated outside and there was no known on-site contact with the initial case,” Dr Chant said.

The man from Bondi transports international flight crews and police are investigating if he breached health orders, which require those working around the hotel quarantine system to be tested for the virus daily and wear personal protective equipment.

Ms Berejiklian said authorities would wait until the police investigation was concluded before decided what to do next.

“Once police complete the investigations and provide the advice to all of us, we will be able to explain what our response is to that, whether it is compliance or a broader issue,” she said.

The Baulkham Hills man travelled to Canberra on Monday.  ACT Health subsequently identified the National Gallery of Australia and a cafe as exposure sites.

Ms Berejiklian has thanked leaders of other states and territories for their response to the outbreak, targeting those who have attended exposure sites rather than imposing blanket border closures.

She also encouraged residents to avoid unnecessary contact with others, and told casual contacts to avoid travel in case they are deemed a close contact in the coming days.

“If you are a casual contact please don’t go anywhere, cancel
your plans. That is an extra precaution to make sure you don’t inadvertently cause harm to yourself or anybody else,” she said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed on Friday that quarantine-free travel would continue with NSW for now. But Australian states have been quicker to act – Western Australia and South Australia have shut their borders to anyone who has been to a NSW exposure site.

Victoria has asked residents from the City of Sydney, Waverley and Woollahra council areas told to obtain travel permits, get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result. Queensland has introduced similar requirements.

-with AAP

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