The New South Wales government has expressed uncertainty about plans for year 12 students to return to the classroom, as Covid case numbers climbed to their third-highest point in this outbreak, with 233 locally acquired cases.
There were two deaths recorded, including a man in his 20s who died at his south-west Sydney home suddenly of Covid-19. He was on day 13 of his isolation after being diagnosed.
“He was being checked daily and he did complain of feeling a little fatigued but the deterioration happened suddenly, is my understanding,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said.
“We are aware that with Covid you can get sudden deaths and I think that is important to understand that your health status can deteriorate and you can have sudden death with Covid infection,” she said.
The number of cases that were infectious in the community in the 24 hours to 8pm Tuesday remained stubbornly high: 47 cases were infectious in the community and 21 were in isolation for part of their infectious period, while 73 cases remain under investigation.
Chant also raised concerns about detections of Covid-19 virus fragments in three sewage systems of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie which is currently not subject to the lockdown.
The government is urging people in those areas to get tested immediately.
As cases continue to grow, the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, acknowledged that Year 12s were unlikely to return to face to face teaching on 16 August as planned, despite a vaccination drive that has seen doses redirected from regional areas to students.
But she reassured students and their families, they would be able to complete their HSC this year.
There are also concerns about spread in another apartment block in Campbelltown where there are nine cases across seven units.
“Some of the transmission events clearly occurred between family groups or friends but we are interviewing a number of cases that were detected overnight through swabbing of that entire premise and we will make those decisions after that,” Chant said.
Despite cases being at their third highest since the NSW outbreak began, Berejiklian again denied that the NSW lockdown was not tight enough.
Journalists asked why Bunnings remained open when it was closed in Queensland and why other retail stores were still appearing on the long list of new exposure sites that was published on Wednesday morning.
Chant said mobility data showed that NSW was achieving equivalent falls in mobility to Victoria during its lockdown.
“This is one of the most tight lockdowns we have ever had. Can I just say the mobility data is showing that we are getting down to what Victoria did in the stage 4 lockdown. So the data we have got confirms this is a tight lockdown,” she said.
“Obviously from a public health perspective, I can’t be clearer, please do not go out and about. Please minimise. If you can go shopping every three days, if you are able to do that, please do,” she said.
But both Chant and Berejiklian said the state was facing some special challenges because of the location of the outbreak in south-west and western Sydney, which is home to diverse ethnic populations, large families and many critical workers.
“The numbers are going up because we have a number of people infectious in the community. The numbers are going up because we are still having mixing with households. We are still having a small number of people that are not isolating effectively and are not isolating after a positive test,” Chant said.
“That requires a whole-of-government approach through the emergency management structures to actually up compliance,” she said. “If there was a silver bullet for this it wouldn’t be so hard.”
Both Chant and Berejiklian said they were working with community leaders in the hotspots to get the message across in different languages and through local media and networks.
Chant said there was now “a very limited list of authorised workers” who could attend work but many of these people live in the hotspots of south-western Sydney and Western Sydney.
Berejiklian said that some households they were dealing with were double digit households.
Chant said that transmission in smaller shops also remained a problem because of proximity.
“The only time we are tending to be seeing transmission in shops is when the staff themselves infect each other. So whether that’s been introduced by a customer and then the staff are obviously very close in those shops and then we get transmission and in those cases that then amplifies it and we get transmission to others,” she said.
She said there had only been “a handful of events” in major supermarkets which were larger and allowed spacing of workers and customers had been less frequent.
She said the government was focussing on making sure there were no disincentives such as financial pressure that caused people to avoid being tested.
On HSC students, Berejiklian said there would be “some level of face-to-face but the extent of that will be determined by the health advice,” she said.
She indicated that the aim now was to have students who needed to attend in person for parts of their HSC to be able to do so by October.
“I want to stress the following: know if you are a Year 12 student or a family member supporting a Year 12 student, all Year 12 students will get their HSC,” she said.
“The path to get there may be different to what they hope it would be but we will make sure that where face-to-face is required that will be done safely.
She said the settings would be different across different parts of greater Sydney.
“It is important for us to prepare for every student to sit the HSC in October to make sure that is a safe way to proceed and that is why it is really important for us to vaccinate those HSC students in the eight local government areas of concern,” she said.
She also foreshadowed there might be some return to school for Year 12s in areas with low or no levels of cases such as the Central Coast and Shellharbour and Wollongong.