BS 19 Test Payments and Bigger Fines As NSW Toughens Lockdown Laws

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BS 19 Test Payments and Bigger Fines As NSW Toughens Lockdown Laws

By Alexandra Smith, Lucy Carroll and Lucy Cormack

People caught breaching the public health orders will face fines of $5000 and a $320 stay-at-home payment will be introduced for residents in Sydney’s hotspot areas who need to isolate while waiting for COVID-19 test results.

Under the tougher new lockdown rules, singles in hotspot areas will be required to register the name of their one companion with the state government and anyone who needs to leave Greater Sydney will be required to apply for a permit.

The government’s crisis cabinet approved a range of new measures on Friday night but a request by police for a citywide rule to stop people exercising more than 5km from their home was not agreed to.

As the state’s eighth week of lockdown looms, COVID-19 case numbers hit a pandemic record of 390 on Friday, and another two deaths were recorded. Almost one third of cases were in the community for some of their infectious period and 250 have not been linked to a known case or cluster.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller and Police Minister David Elliott put forward proposals but were not in the crisis cabinet to brief on the stricter measures.

The new rules will ban anyone from travelling to holiday homes, unless for maintenance, and then only one person will be allowed to attend to the premises.

The state government will introduce a COVID-19 test payment of $320, similar to the $450 offered by the Victorian government during their second-wave lockdown.

And anyone deemed to have breached the public health orders by NSW Police now faces a fine of $5000, up from $1000.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she had asked Mr Fuller to review the health orders, not because they were confusing but because a minority was finding ways around them.

“People are knowingly doing the wrong thing and pretending it’s because they didn’t understand,” she said.

“The vast majority of people are really trying to do everything as best they can, but it’s a handful that uses the health orders as an excuse, when in fact they know they are doing the wrong thing.”

Ms Berejiklian warned that the surge in infections was expected to continue for the next few days, emphasising that the Delta variant was “untested in this magnitude in Australia”.

On Friday Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country’s focus must stay on suppression and vaccination in this stage of the road map out of the pandemic, as the country reached a vaccination milestone with one in four people now fully immunised.

Ms Berejiklian said conservative projections suggested NSW would hit 70 per cent of eligible people double vaccinated by the end of October, and 80 per cent by mid-November.

“Hopefully we’ll get to 5 million early next week, and then sprint towards 6 million by the end of August,” she said.

Canterbury-Bankstown remains the epicentre of the outbreak, but the virus continues to spill over into adjoining areas, with Blacktown and Mount Druitt and adjoining suburbs identified as new areas of concern.

Two more deaths were recorded on Friday, including a woman in her 40s in Sydney’s south-west, who was unvaccinated and died at home, and a man in his late 90s, in the Hunter New England area, who was vaccinated but under palliative care.

Contact tracers have opened five times the number of cases they have closed in a week, adding another 1075 mystery cases over the past five days, with only about 80 per cent of people interviewed within 24 hours of a positive test.

The spike in case numbers comes as Laverty, the major private pathology company conducting one third of the state’s COVID testing, has been forced to shrink hours as its system buckles under surging demand.

Charlestown MP Jodie Harrison said people in her locked down Hunter electorate were facing delays of almost one week, leaving many unable to earn an income while awaiting test results in isolation.

“My office called Laverty to be told testing is running at least five days behind, and that Laverty has notified the government they will be shrinking their hours to cope with capacity.”

One senior manager told Ms Harrison’s office “everything is broken, our phones are broken, our systems are broken. Our system was not prepared for such a big volume.”

Labor health spokesman Ryan Park said, if more testing resources were needed, it had to be a priority for the government.

A Laverty spokeswoman on Friday disputed the claims but said in a statement Laverty was continually increasing and decreasing the hours of its sites, adding that the situation was “dynamic and will continue to be so”.

A NSW Health spokesman said some Laverty testing sites were reducing their hours to ensure they can return results of testing to people as quickly as possible.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale said Dubbo and areas in Western NSW were of serious concern, with 17 new cases bringing the region’s total to 25 cases, including 22 in Dubbo and three in Walgett.
According to the latest federal health department vaccination data, the state’s Far West has the lowest rate of vaccination in NSW, with 16 per cent of residents fully vaccinated.

Dr Gale said health authorities were particularly concerned about the large proportion of Indigenous communities in the region.

“I’m not going to provide the overall breakdown, but certainly some of the cases are Aboriginal people and we’re conscious that in that part of the state many of our Aboriginal communities often come from large families and do move around as part of cultural practice”.

Residents in eight western NSW local government areas are in lockdown and non-elective surgery has been postponed at Dubbo Hospital.

Despite the creep of the virus into the regions, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he had not received health advice calling for a harsher statewide lockdown “at any point”.

“We’ve tried to balance all the way along through this, keeping our economy open, trying to address mental health,” he said.

Mr Hazzard said the government would continue to focus on affected communities and where the virus was expected to move.

There have been no new cases in Tamworth, Armidale and the Northern Rivers regions but Ms Berejiklian said those parts of regional NSW were “not out of the woods” yet given there were exposure sites in those areas.

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