Email shows NSW Health official’s prayer for Sydney lockdown

Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian did not lock Greater Sydney until June 26.  Image: Jenny Evans / Getty Images
Former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian did not lock Greater Sydney until June 26. Image: Jenny Evans / Getty Images

NSW Health officials called for Greater Sydney to be locked down in the days before the government took action, explosive new documents have revealed.

The request from an NSW Health official in the Hunter region came on June 24, one day before selected suburbs in Sydney were closed down and two days before the rest of the city was closed.

The email shows that the official told Health Director Kerry Chant and other top NSW Health bureaucrats to look at a list of sewer detections on the outskirts of Sydney and Wollongong.

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“This is yet another indication of how widespread the distribution of cases is – I think we are now clearly behind the virus and a lockdown in Greater Sydney is certainly required,” the official wrote.

Coronavirus fragments had been found in the northwestern suburbs of Sydney’s Rouse Hill, Castle Hill and Glenhaven and Cronulla in the south of the city.

Fragments had also been found in the Wollongong suburb Bellambi, it said in the email.

“On June 24, 2021, comprehensive public health measures in response to the new Delta outbreak were already well under way,” a NSW Health spokeswoman said in response to a request for comment.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said health officials underestimated how quickly the virus spread.  Photo: NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said health officials underestimated how quickly the virus spread. Photo: NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles

The email was a part of a crowd of formerly secret NSW Health documents recently released to Parliament.

Eight days before the email was sent, an airport driver had tested positive for Covid-19, ending a virus-free streak that had lasted for weeks and would be the state’s last.

Then Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian did not shut down Greater Sydney until June 26.

However, indoor mask mandates were introduced on 22 June, and the following day there were restrictions on unnecessary travel outside Sydney from the worst-affected suburbs and restrictions on household gatherings.

The limited shutdown imposed on June 25 meant that people who worked or lived in Waverley, Woollahra, Randwick and the City of Sydney had to stay home.

That same day, the government limited outdoor gatherings to 10 people and closed some businesses. The lock order on June 26 also included some restrictions on travel and gatherings for people in the regions.

“NSW Health is constantly monitoring the evolving COVID-19 situation and updating its advice to the government accordingly,” the department spokeswoman said.

“Health and safety for the people of NSW is our highest priority and we never hesitate to act to protect it. The Public Health Response Department at NSW Health works closely with public health units in local health districts across the state whose strong local knowledge and expertise help to inform the advice given to the government. “

Dr. Chant previously testified before a parliamentary committee that her team underestimated how fast the virus spread in the days before the lockdown.

There were calls for Sydney to be locked down earlier.  Photo: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard
There were calls for Sydney to be locked down earlier. Photo: NCA NewsWire / Gaye Gerard

This was especially true in the city’s western suburbs, where a Bondi resident unknowingly spread the virus to other attendees at a birthday party in West Hoxton on June 19th.

The extent of this spread was not fully understood until June 23, but even then, NSW Health officials believed they had the situation under control, Drs. Chant to Parliament in August.

“The initial intelligence was that the West Hoxton party was effectively controlled (and) everyone contacted immediately within the time frame,” said Dr. Chant.

She also said that “with hindsight” it would have been better to lock down earlier.

“With the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s easy to say that there was a greater risk of a seeding event in south-west Sydney than was appreciated at the time it emerged,” she said.

The Sydney lockdown lasted for 15 weeks before the vaccination level was raised to such an extent that the state government decided it would be safe to reopen.

Sydney

Anton Nilsson covers NSW policy based in the state parliament and News Corps Holt Street headquarters. He started as a freelance local reporter in New York before moving back to his home country Sweden, where … Read more

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