‘A week too late’: NSW’s delayed lockdown could cost the nation, epidemiologists warn

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New South Wales has put the rest of the country at risk by delaying going into lockdown as the coronavirus spread through Sydney, say epidemiologists who are demanding a national approach to combatting the COVID pandemic

Thousands of people around the nation have gone into isolation due to fears they have come into contact with the highly infectious Delta strain of COVID-19.

On Saturday, the NSW government announced a two-week lockdown for Greater Sydney, Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Wollongong to curb the growing number of cases.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said there was “no point” only locking down for a few days as such a short period would not allow contact tracers to get ahead of the virus.

“Given how transmissible the virus is, given the extra exposure venues, we know that even the best contact tracers in the world can’t stay a step ahead unless we put this in and we need to do it properly,” she said.

But there is growing concern among experts that the virus has not been properly contained and we will see more cases linked to the Sydney outbreak spring up across Australia in coming days.

The virus has already spread from Sydney to Victoria, and a case linked to Queensland hotel quarantine has been found in the Northern Territory.

NSW’s reluctance could cost nation

The NSW government’s reluctance to lock down the whole city has put the rest of the country “at risk”, said epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws after Melbourne recorded a second positive case linked to the outbreak on Saturday.

“It’s a week too late,” said Professor McLaws, a member of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 response team.

“We need to learn, and learn fast. The rhetoric needs to be matched with action, the action needs to be improved.”

Burnet Institute epidemiologist Mike Toole said the coronavirus may “have spread further”, but we would not know until the coming days.

“We’ve already got two cases in Melbourne. If the lockdown had been issued on Friday last week, that birthday party would never have taken place,” Professor Toole said, referring to the “super-spreader” event that took place last Saturday, June 19.

National approach needed

Delta moves quicker than anything we’ve seen before.

At the start of the pandemic, health authorities thought it took about 15 minutes of close contact for someone to become infected with COVID-19.

Now, they know it can happen within seconds.

Professor McLaws said there needs to be a national approach to deal with the new variant.

“We need a rapid response to a variant of concern that is such a formidable warrior as this one is,” she said.

In the coming months, as the nation waits for the vaccine rollout to pick up speed, states and territories need to understand that dealing with Delta is like nothing we have seen before, said public health expert Bill Bowtell, an adjunct professor at the University of NSW.

“No one can have any trust in the federal government handling vaccination or public health,” Adjunct Professor Bowtell said.

“They’ve abandoned their responsibilities. The heavy lifting has to be done by the states. So let’s be clear: everyone has to understand the danger of Delta.”

Hotel quarantine debacles

There are growing calls for a nationwide response to deal with ventilation issues in hotel quarantine.

“We know the transmission occurs through airborne transmission,” Professor Toole said, adding that we have been left at the mercy of continuous lockdowns.

“You’ve got a perfect storm in Australian cities,” he said. “You have a leaky system, you’ve got this new variant.”

Professor McLaws said governments “need to start improving the system” so people “don’t have to go through this horrendous physical and emotional roller coaster” of lockdowns.

“When will the governments learn? When are we going to get a national system? I’m frustrated for the general public,” she said.

Topics: Coronavirus Australia, COVID-19, Delta variant, Gladys Berejiklian, NSW
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