Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular will go ahead as planned despite record Covid cases and new restrictions threatening to spoil the party.
Pressure mounted on Dominic Perrottet to call off the world-renown celebration as NSW diagnosed a record 5,715 coronavirus infections on Thursday.
But policymakers and health officials are still eager for the event to go ahead after a hellish year that had Sydneysiders in lockdown for more than four months.
Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks spectacular will go ahead as planned despite record Covid cases and a raft of new restrictions
Policymakers and health officials are still eager for the event to go ahead after a hellish year that saw Sydneysiders in lockdown for over four months.
NSW reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing indoors and imposed capacity limits on restaurants and bars in a huge U-turn to tackle the Omicron Covid strain just a week after relaxing the rules.
Premier Perrottet also reinstated QR-code check-ins, encouraged working from home and urged Australians to only get tested if they are feeling unwell.
It was an astonishing backflip by Mr Perrottet given he has railed against mask mandates and preached personal responsibility in the past week, backed up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
However, new rules should not affect the fireworks display as masks and capacity limits only apply indoors.
But the hundreds of thousands of spectators expected to line the harbour for the fireworks display are urged to take precautions and wear face coverings and ‘not mingle’.
Pressure is mounting on Dominic Perrottet (pictured) to call off the world-renown celebration as New South Wales climbed to a record 5715 infections on Thursday
Fireworks explode over the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as New Year celebrations begin in Sydney
In fact, NSW’s top doctor warned that partygoers should avoid ‘fun’ activities such as singing and dancing to help curb surging Covid infections over Christmas.
Chief health officer Kerry Chant discouraged close-contact activities as NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet reintroduced QR code check-ins and mandatory mask rules indoors on Thursday.
‘We are discouraging activities we know are associated with increased transmission… singing, dancing, things often associated with fun,’ she said.
‘At this time of year we have to tell it as it is in terms of what carries the most risk, particularly in indoor environments.’
Dr Chant’s warning came despite her admitting Australians were up to 80 per cent less likely to need hospital treatment if they catch the Omicron strain rather than its Delta predecessor.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant discouraged close-contact activities ‘associated with fun’ such as singing and dancing on Thursday
However she said 70 per cent of the state’s new cases were being found in the 10 to 39-year-old age category.
‘We want to see people get out and about and socialise as we transition to living with Covid,’ Dr Chant said.
‘But the fact is you don’t have the transmission prevention benefit from the vaccine, we are actually seeing an escalating number of cases.’
She said family gatherings over Christmas should be socially distanced and held outdoors where possible to reduce the risk of transmission.
As well as reintroducing mask mandates, Mr Perrottet also encouraged working from home and urged Aussies to only get tested if they are feeling unwell.
The move is an astonishing backflip by the state leader given he has railed against mask mandates and preached personal responsibility in the past week.
QR code check-ins and mask rules indoors are mandatory again in NSW. Pictured are Sydneysiders in party mode on December 17 in the build-up to Christmas
Victoria reintroduced indoor masks earlier on Thursday after a similar daily increase of 2,005 infections.
Amid huge testing queues across the state, Mr Perrottet urged Aussies to only get tested if they are ill and said free rapid antigen tests will be available at vaccination centres, GPs and pharmacies next year.
Hospitality venues will have a one person per two square metres rule imposed from December 27 until January 27.
Masks indoors, except at private homes, will also be mandated until January 27.
Pictured is a Sydney nightclub. Dr Chant said NSW residents should avoid ‘fun’ activities such as singing and dancing to help curb surging Covid infections
Earlier this week Mr Perrottet said he didn’t want mask mandates because he wanted to treat people ‘like adults’ and let them decide for themselves.
‘We believe today’s changes are modest, cautious, takes a precautionary approach as we move through this holiday period to the end of January,’ he said.
‘The system is in a very strong position. Our ICU numbers remain low at 45. That is incredibly pleasing.
Premier Perrottet has reintroduced mask mandates
‘We believe the changes that we are making today will ensure that our health system is well manned over the holiday season as we go through this next stage.
‘Our number one priority is to keep people safe. We continue to open up the economy safely and are incredibly confident that New South Wales and our great people have made an enormous efforts and sacrifices over this period of time.’
Mr Perrottet said he has received health advice that the Omicron strain is ‘five times less severe’ than Delta but more data was needed to make sure.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said 80 per cent of cases in NSW were the more infectious Omicron strain and this explains the sharp increase.
‘Pulling together multiple pieces of evidence from overseas countries such as South Africa and the UK, and using some of our own emerging data, it indicates that infection with Omicron is likely to be milder than infection with Delta, with the risk of hospitalisation being around 60 to 80 per cent less than for Delta,’ she said.
‘But the issue is the increased transmissibility, leading to high case numbers. And the impact this is having on vulnerable settings, vulnerable people and critical workforces.’
VICTORIA AND NSW’S NEW RULES
From 12am Friday:
Masks mandated indoors except private homes until 27 January
Hospitality venues will have a one person per two square metres rule imposed from December 27 until January 27
Working from home recommended
Only get PCR tested if you are ill or directed to by NSW Health
From 11.59pm Thursday:
Face masks are mandatory in all indoor settings in Victoria, except private homes, for anyone aged eight or over.
Face masks are required at all major events with more than 30,000 people.
Victorians should work from home if they can.
Hospitality venues are recommended to switch to a seated-only service.
Mr Perrottet said there are about 1,500 health workers today unable to go to work because they are sick or have to get Covid tests.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said too many people are getting tested even though they don’t have symptoms, pushing out the testing times.
‘Many people waiting hours in queues, particularly as we come into Christmas.
‘We’re doing everything we can to alleviate that pressure. In addition to the PCR testing, if you’re unwell and those people from New South Wales… if you aren’t feeling unwell, please do not get a PCR test.’
About 20 per cent of testing is for travellers leaving the state, prompting Mr Perrottet to petition other premiers to relax their testing requirements.