19 Jul 2021

Covid-19: NSW hard lockdown only chance to 'crush' outbreak - Premier

10:24 am on 19 July 2021

The results of New South Wales' tougher lockdown could take up to five days to become apparent, premier Gladys Berejiklian warns, while making a plea for patience.

The George Street promenade, Sydney, pictured on usually busy Saturday afternoon, on 17 July 2021, after authorities ordered new Covid-19 restrictions.

The usually busy George Street promenade, Sydney, was almost deserted on Saturday 17 July 2021, after authorities ordered new Covid-19 restrictions. Photo: AFP

On Saturday, tougher health orders were introduced for non-essential retail and for residents in the Fairfield, Canterbury-Bankstown, and Liverpool local government areas (LGAs) where the majority of Covid-19 cases are still concentrated.

From Monday, work on all construction sites is banned until midnight 30 July. The shutdown, which the premier said was a "very difficult" decision to make, is expected to affect a quarter of a million workers and is the first for the industry since the pandemic started last year.

Bus, train and ferry services will also be scaled back from Monday, and will run to a Sunday timetable in a bid to further reduce mobility.

Berejiklian said the next two weeks were critical to prevent a further extension of the lockdown.

"We are throwing everything at it because we have a two-week window when we are in a hard lockdown to be able to crush this thing."

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Photo: AFP

Yesterday's 105 new cases were among the third highest recorded in a single day since this Delta outbreak began on 16 June. A woman in her 90s from south-eastern Sydney also died, taking the state's death toll to four.

But the all important number that has informed health orders remained "worryingly" high, with 27 of the state's 105 cases active in the community while infectious.

"We have seen another crop up, day in and day out," Berejiklian said.

"We want the community to be more vigilant than ever before, because I am convinced that working together we will start to see those numbers nudge, and we are throwing all of our resources and efforts to making that happen."

The government has pinned its hopes on surveillance testing, which is required for workers classified as essential who need to leave the three affected LGAs.

Construction sites closed

After days of uncertainty in the community about what was defined as "essential work", the government provided an explanation on Sunday. But instead of clearing up misunderstandings, some workers - like those in construction - have found the messaging confusing.

Mateusz Jedruszek, owner of Perfect Contracting in the inner-west Sydney suburb of Marrickville, employs 200 people and said he was shocked when he heard that construction sites were being shut for two weeks.

"We really followed the rules on all construction sites quite well, every job site was safe and everyone was wearing masks and kept social distancing … it seems a little bit unfair," Mr Jedruszek said.

He fears for his workers, who have been calling him desperate to find out when their workplace will open again, and while he hopes the lockdown won't extend beyond 30 July, he wants some certainty from the government.

"We're concerned about their survival for the next two weeks," he said.

"If those two weeks don't work and the numbers stay high, is it going to be four weeks? Six weeks? Because an extended period will really affect the business.

"We will have to lay off staff if the lockdown goes longer than two weeks, this is certain."

It's estimated the shutdown of the industry, which employs a lot of casual workers, will cost the state economy about $700 million per week.

Carpenter Sam Pedler did not agree with the closures after retail stores had been allowed to operate for so long. He said the news had left him feeling "pretty hopeless," and while he could manage for two weeks, any longer would be "tough".

"If it goes longer than two weeks I'm going to struggle to pay my rent, buy food, electricity. If I have to take leave I will do that, but it's not fair," he said.

Ricardo Ramirez-Gonzalez moved from hospitality to construction a month ago as a "safety net" after last year's lockdown. He has no support since his family lives overseas in Chile.

"At some point my savings will be completely gone, and then it depends on how you manage that - hopefully it wont be more than two weeks of course," Mr Ramirez-Gonzalez said.

"Being an immigrant is basically very hard to be away from your family, but then it's even harder when you lose your job," he said.

The Premier has repeatedly stated the health advice will dictate when state will emerge from lockdown, but on Sunday she did hold some hope she may be open to interim changes.

"There can be settings we may be able to adjust," she said.

"Our aim is to quash the virus but if there is anything we can do to ease things in the community, and we may be able to resume some level of activity, that will be based on health advice.

"We have given commitment to allow a level of the construction industry to come back after July 30 but we are constantly reviewing settings."