The NSW Government’s intention to lift restrictions in rural and regional NSW on August 28 will be dependent on Local Government Areas (LGAs) ticking three crucial boxes.
If an LGA has no COVID-19 cases, has no detections in sewage surveillance, and there are no cases in adjoining LGAs, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said he is “confident” such areas will come out of lockdown this weekend.
The Deputy Premier said the government intends to review each LGA independently.
“I will say this clearly – next Saturday our intention is to lift restrictions in rural and regional NSW. That’s almost a blunt commitment and we’ll do that based on, are there any active COVID cases in the LGA? In the sewage surveillance, are there any fragments in the sewage? And are you adjoining another LGA that is high case numbers? If you tick any of those boxes, you won’t be coming out, but we will be looking at an LGA approach,” Mr Barilaro said.
“And I am confident that as of next Saturday, or the following Monday, kids will be resuming school in regional and rural NSW.”
Mr Barilaro said scenarios that could risk lockdowns being lifted would be if case numbers were recorded in new areas right across the regions, if there were other hot spots or more outbreaks in more LGAs.
“And if we’re finding that only a small number of LGAs could come out after applying the criteria, you may be better off leaving everything locked down. But we’re not seeing that,” he said.
“All the data clearly shows the issue in the central west is contained predominantly in the central and far west. It is the same mobility of that community and that’s why I’m still confident we’ll be ok.
“Canberra… I’ve been saying for a week, there is an issue in Canberra. It could spread and that has occurred. That brings a complexity there and that shows you how quickly a case can appear, but things would have to dramatically change from what has already occurred over the last week and having two weeks of [lockdown] data gives us more confidence to make decisions.”
When asked about a ‘stay in your region’ approach if there are further restrictions and lockdowns, to keep local businesses open and ensure people only travel within their region, Mr Barilaro said it is something the government may consider.
“I am going to be looking at a very nuanced approach to decisions for next Saturday,” the Deputy Premier said.
“I don’t want to keep areas locked down if they have no cases, it’s that simple. It is unfair and it’s got to be measured against risk versus, of course, the mental wellbeing of people being locked down, and the impact it has on business and the long-term impact it has on business.
“If that’s the way to manage it, if we can open up the regions, as long as you remain in those regions, I’m more than happy to consider that and that may be an approach we could have in all parts of the state, but fingers crossed I’m able to lift all the restrictions in regional and rural NSW and only keep those small number of LGAs locked down that are of concern and give everybody else freedom across the state.”
To provide greater security for the regions, a permit system is now in place. Sydney residents wishing to leave Greater Sydney to travel to regional and rural NSW will need a permit.
“Further to that, they will need to have a COVID test in the previous seven days prior to leaving to go to the regions,” Mr Barilaro said.
“In my mind this gives us greater protection. We will look at that over the next week or two, and if we’ve got to strengthen that further, we will and we may apply the permit system even harder across the board, but we’ll give it a couple of weeks to play out.”
Mr Barilaro said the permits would only be issued for valid reasons and that hefty penalties would apply for not having one, or for supplying false information in the application process.
Valid reasons for a permit include for the purposes of work, or urgent maintenance or repairs on a second property.
“What the permit system does is it gives the police the ability to quickly see compliance,” he said.
Mr Barilaro said the government understands the impact the lockdown has on businesses and encouraged regional and rural business owners to get online to see what help is available to them.
The JobSaver payments from the NSW and Federal Governments is payments up to $100,000 a week based on payroll and the loss of turnover.
“Businesses should jump on the Service NSW website and get the details,” Mr Barilaro said.
“$700 million dollars has already gone out in relation to business support, and that is available right across the board in regional and rural NSW. They’ve just got to show decline in turnover to the threshold and then there’s a payment system based against their wage book. But it can be up to $100,000 a week, which is significant.
“We need to make sure people are aware of the business grants. I think there is still some misinformation in the regions about who is applicable and who isn’t. They think all the business support is for Sydney; it’s statewide.”
Mr Barilaro also reiterated the importance of people complying with the stay at home orders.
“We give people plenty of reasons in the stay home orders to leave. We understand that you’ve got to get on with running the family, running the household, doing shopping, medical appointments, caring for others – we accept all of that,” he said.
“But the reality is unless you actually have to leave home, don’t. The only way Delta can continue to spread is if you expose more people to it so the more people that stay at home, the less chance that you have of spread. Then you can contain the one case or the two cases or if the sewage surveillance is showing that there may be a case. Minimal contact with people, it’s that simple.
“My message is to be vigilant. If you’ve got symptoms, get tested, otherwise if you don’t need to leave home, don’t leave home.”
In other public health orders, as of yesterday, it is mandatory to wear a mask when outside the home, except when exercising.
Children are, and always have been, exempt from wearing a mask.
When asked if an LGA was released from lockdown, would it return to lockdown if it later had fragments detected in sewage, Mr Barilaro said the government is “not that trigger happy”.
“I would not accept that because that gives you no certainty. We would only put an area into lockdown if there was a confirmed case,” he said.
“If you lower the benchmark to lockdown off the back of a sewage detection, we’d be locked down forever and a day, there would just be no point in coming out, so no. It’s a very different criteria when we go to a lockdown.
“As we’ve seen in the past, if there is a case and that case has been active in the community and there are exposure sites, then that would lead to a decision for a lockdown, but I wouldn’t be doing it off the back of sewage surveillance. That’s not sufficient for a lockdown.”
Mr Barilaro added that the government plans to release a roadmap this week that shows the path out of lockdown for the entire state.
“I will answer these questions much more clearly by Wednesday, because I’ll know exactly what we’re looking at,” he said.
If communities can satisfy the criteria for lifting lockdowns, they will be able to be released, and the restrictions that were in place prior to the current lockdown will resume.