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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has given her clearest indication that Sydney is on the brink of a lockdown as health officials scramble to find missing links in the city’s growing COVID-19 cluster.
In a significant escalation of her rhetoric, Ms Berejiklian told Parliament on Wednesday the government “will not hesitate to go further and harder if we have to” with restrictions.
NSW was on high alert after reporting 16 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, with 31 cases now linked to the Bondi cluster and others under investigation.
The government imposed new restrictions from 4pm Wednesday on Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour, which includes limiting capacity in all indoor and outdoor settings to one person per four square metres.
“I really want the public to be prepared and to know that this is an evolving situation,” Ms Berejiklian told question time.
Several senior government sources who are familiar with the discussions confirmed a lockdown was the next step if case numbers continued to rise over the coming days.
More than 1200 people have been told to isolate for 14 days after being identified as a close contact of a case. This figure does not include casual contacts who have been asked to get tested and isolate until receiving a negative test.
The cases resulted in venue alerts for Christo’s Pizzeria at Paddington on Monday night, Joh Bailey’s Double Bay Salon on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Double Bay’s Matteo restaurant on Friday night.
Four NSW Nationals MP, including Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall and upper house MPs Ben Franklin and Trevor Khan, are isolating after being contacted by NSW Health and told to get a COVID-19 test immediately. The group was at Christo’s Pizzeria.
Other alerts were issued on Wednesday for north-west Sydney’s 600 and 665 bus routes, bus 333 from Oxford Street, and trains running from Bondi to Mascot, Mascot to Central and Central to Glenfield. Diners who were at Surry Hills’ Lumiere Cafe on Monday and Nando’s Wetherill Park on Sunday night were also told to isolate and get tested.
Late Wednesday night, diners at Tropicana Cafe in Darlinghurst on Friday between 12pm and 2pm and Ikaria Bondi in Bondi Beach on Sunday between 5pm and 7pm were told to get tested and isolate for 14 days. Alerts were also issued for Coles Express, Woolworths Metro in Bondi, BWS Mascot, United Cinema Narellen, Meadowbank Tafe, 338 Pitt Street and Coles King Cross in Potts Point.
Masks are mandatory in all indoor workplaces and gyms, while dancing and singing at events is banned, along with standing while drinking at bars and restaurants.
Household guests are limited to five people, including children, and green dots marking social distancing requirements on public transport have been re-implemented.
The new cases also prompted federal Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly to declare seven Sydney council areas – Waverley, City of Sydney, Woollahra, Bayside, Canada Bay, Inner West and Randwick – as COVID-19 hotspots.
Any resident who lives or works in those council areas is banned from travelling outside metropolitan Sydney for the next week, scuppering school holiday travel plans for thousands of families.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the outbreak had exposed the state to a “very real and present danger”.
“It is quite serious. I have to say, as NSW Health Minister, I’m as worried right now as I have been at any time since January last year,” he said.
Mr Hazzard later told Parliament the state was “effectively in a wartime situation with a virus that appears to know no bounds of decency”.
Ms Berejiklian said Parliament would continue to sit this week but in reduced numbers and MPs would wear masks.
“We can’t make ourselves an exception. We are a workplace like everywhere else so for essential purposes, people can go to work but must wear masks,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Eight of the new cases attended a birthday party at West Hoxton in Sydney’s south-west on Saturday. Ten of the party’s 30 attendees have tested positive, including a two-year-old who attended Little Zak’s childcare in Narellan Vale on June 21.
Four of the cases are under investigation with no known links to other cases. A nine-year-old student at St Charles’ Primary School Waverley, whose infection was reported on Tuesday, has also not been linked.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said she expected to announce further cases related to the party.
“Under my definition, I certainly would say the party was a superspreader,” she said.
Little Zak’s childcare put its COVID-19 action plan in place “within two hours” of receiving news of the positive test, said chief executive officer Richard Bell.
The centre closed for deep cleaning and contacts are being tested.
NSW Health has continued to ask anyone who was in Westfield Bondi Junction, including the car park, and particularly at the Fitness First gym, at any time between June 12 and 18 to get tested.
There was a significant increase in testing with 44,640 people tested to 8pm on Wednesday, a jump from 28,645 the previous day.
Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia reintroduced hard border closures for Greater Sydney and residents in the declared hotspots were banned from travel to Victoria.
with Daniella White
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Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.