SMH editorial: Vigilance required from everyone to beat outbreak

Just when we thought 2020 was all but done, it had other ideas. With Sydney’s northern beaches outbreak reporting 30 new cases of community transmission on Sunday, and surely more to come, this is not the Christmas week we would have hoped for.

The good news is that all of the new cases were linked directly to, or were geographically close to, the known outbreak. The bad news is that after days of extensive investigations by NSW Health, they are still none the wiser on the original source of the outbreak. Without that, gauging the scale of the outbreak is going to be, at best, guesswork. And that is surely not only keeping NSW Health authorities awake at night but is sending ripples of concern right across Australia.

On November 13, after weeks of negotiations, Prime Minister Scott Morrison finally got an agreement for most states and territories to reopen their borders by Christmas. That pledge, which had been largely met, has taken just a couple of days to come apart.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was adamant on Sunday that he did not want anyone from Greater Sydney and the NSW Central Coast, which it now considers “red zones“, visiting his state. Victoria is putting police back on the border and enforcing a 14-day quarantine period for those who live in or have visited those zones. All other states are enforcing similar rules. So much for the Prime Minister’s collective decision-making process of the national cabinet.Advertisement

While outbreaks have always been expected, outside of the hotel quarantine debacle in Melbourne, this is probably the biggest challenge any state has faced. NSW’s “gold standard” contact tracing team is going to be tested like never before.

Some of the nations most successful at containing the virus have followed the mantra “go hard and go early”. While the Herald would not advocate for a complete hard lockdown, ​it remains perplexing that mandatory mask-wearing is not being enforced.

W​e would also encourage the government to consider taking stronger action to protect aged care homes and other high-density accommodation settings in which vulnerable people are living.
Just encouraging people to “do the right thing” will surely heighten the risk of the outbreak spreading further than if a tougher approach was enforced.

This outbreak is sure to have ruined the best-laid plans of many. But the curtailing of Christmas gatherings, the cancelling of holiday getaways, the disruption to an economy that was starting to show signs of getting back on its feet, while painful, are the only way forward.

The NSW Premier has indicated that there will be a major review of the restrictions on Wednesday, but any thought this is going to be over soon is not realistic. Even with the most effective of containment, it will be weeks before anyone can rest easy again in NSW, confident that community transmission has been eliminated.

It’s not the news anyone wanted to hear. And while two vaccines may have been approved in America, and are being rolled out, Australia still has a few months to go before supplies arrive. The year is nearly done, and good riddance to 2020. Unfortunately, the new year is going to offer little reprieve from the need to stay vigilant against a virus that has tested all of us like never before.

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