An outbreak of coronavirus is likely to get much worse before it gets better, and the following few hours could spark a superspreader event.
An outbreak of coronavirus is likely to get much worse before it gets better, and the following few hours could spark a superspreader event.

Why Sydney is on the verge of disaster

New Year's Eve house parties in Sydney could set off a string of superspreader events with dire consequences that will only come to light in coming weeks.

 

Stricter restrictions were introduced on Wednesday with residents in Greater Sydney allowed just five visitors into their households, including children, but there are concerns that these rules could be flouted.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the changes to New Year's Eve plans after 18 new cases were uncovered on Wednesday, amid a new coronavirus cluster emerging in Sydney's inner west in Croydon. A further 10 cases were detected on Thursday, just hours before New Year's Eve celebrations were due to kick off.

NSW Customer Service Minister Victor Dominello told the Sydney Morning Herald that very few people were expected in the CBD to celebrate and health advice suggested that gatherings in the home pose a higher risk.

Infectious disease expert Raina MacIntyre agreed, warning that private parties risked fuelling the outbreak, particularly when it was impossible to police what was happening in every household across the state.

 

 

"We could have very widespread community transmission," Professor MacIntyre said. "It is already the biggest outbreak in NSW and it's at the worst possible time for it to happen as we have three superspreading events roughly within a week of each other - we've got Christmas, New Year's and now the cricket just adding fuel to fire," she told news.com.au.

"Tonight is very high risk. Anyone could be at the peak of infection today, and generally right at the beginning people don't know they are infected and about half of the people who develop infections don't have symptoms, but they are just as infectious as people with symptoms.

"So we can have highly infections people moving around the community who don't know they are infected and they have no way of telling they are infected, so that's what makes it so hard to control."

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Infectious disease expert Professor Raina MacIntyre from the Kirby Institute has warned that NYE house parties are a huge risk to the spread of COVID-19 throughout NSW. Picture: UNSW
Infectious disease expert Professor Raina MacIntyre from the Kirby Institute has warned that NYE house parties are a huge risk to the spread of COVID-19 throughout NSW. Picture: UNSW

 

An epidemiologist at the Kirby Institute, Prof MacIntyre said people travelling to celebrations on public transport was also a hazard and mandatory mask wearing would make a difference.

"We know from data from Victoria that only 30 to 40 per cent of people were wearing masks before it was mandated," she said. "And on a day like New Year's Eve when people are perhaps consuming alcohol and have their guards down, people are less likely to wear masks."

Prof MacIntyre predicts Sydney could see a surge in cases anywhere between January 6 and 14.

"If numbers are coming down by January 14, we have good prospects of going down to zero transmission, but if however we see a rise in cases after that then the situation is very serious," she said.

"We have been so fortunate to have good control of the pandemic here. People don't realise what's at stake and how bad it could be. Over in the UK, most people would know someone who has been ill or died and has been personally touched by it, but that's not the case here so it's kinda an abstract concept to people [on] this pandemic and how serious it is."

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Travelling to celebrations on public transport also poses a big risk. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP
Travelling to celebrations on public transport also poses a big risk. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAP

 

The outdoor gathering limit has also been reduced from 50 to 30 people, with restrictions in place until further notice.

When bringing the restrictions in, Ms Berejiklian said the Government didn't want New Year's Eve to be the cause of a superspreader event.

"It only takes one person in [a] family gathering to give it to everybody else in the family," she said.

 

Originally published as Why Sydney is on the verge of disaster


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