Just over three weeks ago, on December 14, NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, held a press conference to confirm that the next day pretty much all restrictions would be lifted regardless of the emergence of the Omicron strain and rising case numbers.
“At the moment, our government here … is very keen to get us all back to normality, to our previous life,” he said. “We’re not going to start backflipping on issues we promised the community we’ll do.”
That day, there were 804 new cases in NSW, 168 people being treated in hospital and 21 in ICU.
On December 15, QR codes and vaccine certificates were dropped. The unvaccinated were free to join the rest of us with masks only required on public transport and in airports, or for indoors front-of-house hospitality staff who aren’t fully vaccinated. Close contacts no longer had to isolate for 7 days. Density limits no longer applied with no limit to the number of people allowed in your home, at outdoor public gatherings and at hospitality venues. Borders reopened to vaccinated skilled migrants and foreign students.
Hazzard cited research from the Public Health Unit at the University of New South Wales which suggested a possible surge of up to 25,000 COVID cases a day by the end of January but suggested that was unlikely if we all continued to take personal responsibility.
On that same day, modelling from the Doherty Institute showing a possible scenario of 200,000 cases a day was leaked to the media, and summarily dismissed by the Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.
Prof Kelly said the 200,000 figure “presents one of the worst case of all potential scenarios including assumptions that the Omicron variant is as severe as the Delta variant, an absence of hospital surge capacity, a highly limited booster program, no change to baseline public health and social measures and an absence of spontaneous behaviour change in the face of rising case numbers. None of these five assumptions represent the likely state of events, let alone all of them together, therefore presenting that scenario as the likely scenario that will occur is highly misleading.”
By December 24, with 5,715 new cases reported that day and 1500 healthcare workers furloughed either because of Covid-induced illness or as a result of isolation orders, Perrottet was forced to backflip on his “personal responsibility” approach to mask-wearing by reintroducing a mandate requiring them to be worn indoors while also reinstating social distancing measures in hospitality venues and a return to mandatory QR code check-ins at some retail venues.
But by then, the horse had bolted.
NSW has reported over 70,000 new cases in the last two days but the real number is undoubtedly significantly higher as the testing regime has been overwhelmed. Yesterday, there were 1609 people in hospital and 131 in ICU with these numbers growing significantly each day.
We keep being told that the hospitals have adequate surge capacity but the truth is, whilst they might have enough beds and ventilators, that means nothing if you don’t have sufficient staff. More than 3800 health staff were furloughed in NSW due to COVID-19 exposure on Wednesday
For some totally obscure reason, Scott Morrison has tasked the Secretary of PM&C, Phil Gaetjens, with coming up with the plan for how to get kids back to school and keep them there. I am fairly certain this man has zero experience of staffing a school so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with to cover the teachers who are going to inevitably get sick.
No wonder Morrison keeps telling us to look out the windscreen and focus on moving forward because the rear-view mirror is full of wreckage with a runaway train barrelling towards us.
Australia did well when we followed the advice of the health experts. Then the politicians took over and here we are.
BREAKING: The SMH is reporting that the NSW government is preparing to announce a major reversal of COVID-19 restrictions by shutting nightclubs, banning singing and dancing in pubs, discouraging “vertical consumption”, and pausing major events and some elective surgery in response to the state’s surging Omicron caseload. Major events would be risk-assessed by NSW Health and postponed where necessary. Restrictions will be branded as “safety measures” rather than a lockdown
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