The state’s most senior doctor, NSW chief medical officer Kerry Chant, has said that restaurants, pubs, clubs and bars are “high-risk environments” where exposure to the virus could be likely. Her words of warning come as it has emerged that thousands of people may have been exposed by just three recent cases who in total visited 17 venues in Sydney’s CBD, Western Suburbs, the Inner West and Newcastle while infectious. A full list of the affected businesses can be found on the NSW Health website.
Hundreds of people in Sydney and Newcastle have already been ordered to self isolate for 14 days, as contact tracers scramble to locate anyone who may now be unknowingly spreading the virus undetected. However, fears of a second wave of uncontrolled community transmission in NSW, similar to that seen in Victoria in recent weeks, continue to mount. While tighter border restrictions came into effect at midnight on August 8, making access to NSW from Victoria much harder, as many as 15,000 arrivals from the southern state are believed to have already entered NSW over the past fortnight.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged the public – particularly those aged 20 to 29 years old – to reduce social outings over the next two "critical" weeks, but other high profile health experts in the state are calling on the government to implement far stricter measures, according to a report by the Sydney Morning Herald. Infectious disease specialist and professor at the Kirby Institute UNSW, Greg Dore, is calling for all pubs, clubs and restaurants in Sydney to be closed for four-weeks, saying this action would be “economically more advantageous than a longer closure due to rising infections that could extend until the summer”.
He praised the efforts of the state’s medical teams and contact tracers but said that the growing trend of restaurant and pub hot spots was too great a risk to ignore. “The increasing number of exposed venues and individuals undermines [NSW Health’s] capacity to test-trace-isolate our way out of the current renewed spread,” Dore said.
The president of the Australian Medical Association NSW, Dr Danielle McMullen, told the Herald that the state government should act rapidly to impose tighter controls on indoor gatherings at pubs, clubs and restaurants, saying that current rules were not being followed. "We've all walked past cafés and restaurants or pubs with crowded tables of people sitting close together," she said. "We recognise that there is a balance between public health and the economic risk and health consequences of a shutdown or economic turndown, but our first priority must be keeping people safe."
State officials have repeatedly said that decisions about containment measures, such as a lockdown, must be guided by medical advice rather than economic concerns. However, while Kerry Chant has publicly declared hospitality venues as “high risk”, she has also said that any efforts to implement tougher restrictions was a matter for the state cabinet to decide.