With one new case of locally acquired COVID-19 detected in NSW to 8.00pm last night, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said health authorities were ‘confident enough’ to lift the Pittwater lockdown from tomorrow. However, she said that the community should remain on ‘high alert’ as concern mounts over the UK strain of COVID-19 entering the community.

Gladys Berejiklian

Gladys Berejiklian

“The strong advice and message we have to the people of the Northern Beaches but also to the people of greater Sydney and even in our regions is all of us have to be on high alert. We know that there are different variations of the virus now. We know that some states are having a few scares in relation to outbreaks.

“Even though the Northern Beaches community will resume a sense of normality from tomorrow, being part of greater Sydney, all of us have to be on high alert. Until vaccination levels are at a stage where the vast majority of people are vaccinated, we have to live with COVID in the current climate. We have to assume these restrictions or some sense of restriction will be in place for the foreseeable future.

“We are confident enough to lift the restrictions in the northern zone of the Northern Beaches, confident enough for that to occur. But can we guarantee there aren’t remnants of community transmission? We can’t,” said the Premier.

National cabinet yesterday (Friday, 08 January) took the decision to halve the number of international travellers being allowed into Australia. Brisbane has experienced chaotic scenes as it enters a 3-day lockdown, the result of the UK strain escaping hotel quarantine there.

The Premier said that the ‘pause’ on international travel would give NSW the time and resources needed to understand and mitigate the risks of new strains of COVID.

“The pause we’ve taken for a month in relation to overseas travellers gives us time to learn what the virus is doing, what these new variations of the virus are doing. That’s really important.

“It’s important for us especially in relation to managing our quarantine system that we take a pause for a month, that we reduce the burden of processing so many people every week, and take that time to learn and understand what the variations of the virus are doing and whether we do need to step up and down any of our settings,” said Premier Berejiklian.

Kerry Chant

Kerry Chant

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said that an expert panel called Communicable Disease Network Australia (CDNA) was reviewing the guidelines for patients with new virus strains.

“Before the emergence of the new strain, what the guidelines were, for mild cases you were able to be discharged if you were 10 days from your symptom onset and you had been free of symptoms for 72 hours before.

“The reason that was necessary is that we have found cases where you can detect the virus in people’s noses and throats three months and even four months after the infection. What we are also observing is sometimes they may be negative at a certain point but then you get a runny nose and if you get tested at that time you can sometimes have remnants of the virus come out. Because of that you’d have people permanently locked up.

“That’s why CDNA looked at the evidence, and as people are most infectious in that beginning bit, that pre-symptomatic bit, before they get symptoms and those few days after is when there’s a peak. Gradually infectiousness decreases, for generally mild disease. There’s a different profile for people if you are in intensive care or you’ve got that more intensive lung involvement.

“In NSW we have now reinstituted PCR testing on all negatives but we are also making sure we’ve got timely genome sequencing. That can inform decision making. If you are negative you will be able to go but we will extend the period to 14 days, not 10 days.

“If you are positive, what we will do is have a case by case assessment with the experts who will do things like; whether you’ve got antibodies in response, whether your PCR tests are going up or down or stable, showing your level of infectiousness. The experts will look at each case,” said Dr Chant.

The locally acquired case detected in NSW to 8.00pm last night was a contact of a western Sydney case connected with the Berala cluster, which now has 21 cases. Dr Chant said the case was found through community testing and the 25,646 tests conducted yesterday continued to give health authorities confidence.

NSW Health is currently treating 110 COVID-19 cases, none of whom are in intensive care. Five additional COVID-19 cases were identified in returned travellers in hotel quarantine yesterday.

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