NSW remains on “high alert” as the state faces “the most critical few weeks” in its response to the virus since the shutdown in March, according to premier Gladys Berejiklian. 16 new cases were diagnosed in the 24-hour reporting period between July 20 and 21. Excluding infections found in returning travellers in hotel quarantine, there have now been 98 cases linked to the recent outbreaks in Sydney and the NSW South Coast.
New rules restricting the number of people that can gather in hospitality venues come into effect this Friday, July 24, but the premier noted that many businesses throughout the state were still not complying with safety regulations concerning maximum occupancies, physical distancing and other health guidelines, such as registering a "Covid Safe" plan. Berejiklian warned that the police would “throw the book” at both business owners and their patrons found to be breaking the rules this weekend. In the case of businesses, a first offence will result in a $5000 fine and any further non-compliance will result in the business being shut down, she said.
Berejiklian encouraged customers and even concerned staff members to inform Crime Stoppers if they observe a business not complying with the latest health guidelines. “So much is at stake,” the premier added.
The state’s health authorities are also calling on NSW residents to postpone any unnecessary travel and to avoid private gatherings of more than 10 people, despite regional travel being officially allowed and current guidelines permitting private gatherings of up to 20 people. The state’s chief medical officer, Dr Kerry Chant, called on the community to “make the right decisions”, saying that a new case found in the Hunter Valley had been linked to the Thai Rock restaurant in Wetherill Park in Sydney’s west, proving just how fast and far the virus can travel in a short period of time.
There have been some encouraging indications in the past few days that contact tracing has been effectively suppressing the spread of the latest outbreaks. There have been no instances of untraced community transmission found amongst newly diagnosed cases since July 20. Genomic sequencing has also allowed contact tracers to link the current outbreaks more clearly to rule out widespread community transmission beyond known sources. However, despite these promising signs, the premier said authorities remained “deeply concerned” that a second wave, similar to the resurgence that has sent Melbourne back into lockdown, could emerge in Sydney if safety rules were not strictly followed.