“That’s why the advice to government evolves and our response to the pandemic evolves … We believe in striking the right balance between allowing the economy to function, people to keep their jobs and move forward.”
It is the same sense of caution that saw the federal government impose a snap 72-hour shutdown of the border with New Zealand, which was extended for another 24 hours on Wednesday afternoon with the emergence of two more cases across the Tasman.
From 12.01am Friday, up to 30 visitors can gather in households in NSW, with 50 people outdoors, while masks will no longer be compulsory in retail shopping venues.
Masks will remain mandatory for hospitality staff, on public transport and in places of worship, gaming rooms, beauticians and hairdressers.
Weddings and funerals will be capped at 300 people fully seated and dancing will still be restricted to 20 people in a bridal party. Singing remains limited to five people in a choir.
Ms Berejiklian said NSW was on the verge of reverting to the two square metre rule, but not before all of Greater Sydney recorded two 14-day cycles of zero community transmission.
“Whilst we’ve had two 14-day cycles of the northern beaches [without] any community transmission, in south-west and western Sydney we’ve gone through one cycle of transmission,” she said.
Ms Berejiklian called on other states and territories that remain closed to NSW residents to take note of the positive gains made since the pre-Christmas outbreak.
“Why would you have any internal borders if there is no place in Australia, no place that is a hotspot? Why would you prevent your citizens from being able to freely move around the country?“, she said.
In the latest reporting period there were two cases acquired overseas, from 9723 tests, up from 7819 in the previous 24 hours.
Health authorities on Wednesday again expressed concern over persistently low testing numbers, which Health Minister Brad Hazzard described as inadequate.
“We need to have clear information as to whether or not the virus is still circulating … particularly in the west and south-west,” he said.
Dr Fiona Stanaway, clinical epidemiologist at the University of Sydney School of Public Health said the government’s decision to ease some restrictions on Friday was reasonable given the streak of zero community cases.
However, she said the caveat to that was the drop in testing rates while fragments of the virus were still being detected at the Liverpool sewage treatment plant.
“People need to keep in mind that this could all change. That suddenly there could be a case leading to a small cluster, which could happen given the low testing rates and positive sewage,” she said.
Dr Stanaway added it would have been prudent to maintain the mask mandate for retail workers, given a liquor store was at the centre of the Berala outbreak in western Sydney.
“These were people in the shop for a short time. It’s unusual but it highlights that there is a risk there,” she said.
Hospitality industry leaders on Wednesday expressed disappointment at the delay in returning to the two square metre rule, which could increase revenue at some venues by about 25 per cent.
Matt Moran, who owns several restaurants including Barangaroo House and Aria, said the removal of the 300-patron cap on large venues this Friday was positive, but small- and medium-sized businesses would continue to suffer.
“I thought it would have come back to what it was [before the Avalon outbreak]. I’m really surprised she’s held back another two weeks,” he said.
Wes Lambert, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, said the sector was relying on increases to customer numbers in time for Valentine’s Day as “the last possible boost before the end of JobKeeper and the Easter trade.”
The Premier said the second cycle would be complete in two weeks, giving health authorities confidence they had “ticked all the boxes” before further relaxation of restrictions.
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Lucy Cormack is a state political reporter with The
Sydney Morning Herald.
Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Josh Dye is a news reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.