The New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian has emphasised that Covid-19 cases infectious in the community must go down to relax the current lockdown, but she says hitting vaccination targets will add “more options” for the state in the future.
NSW recorded a small fall in infections on Tuesday, with 199 new cases to 8pm on Monday, and the government is taking heart from the high levels of testing at more than than 100,000 a day. Testing figures are being boosted by critical workers in the eight hotspot local government areas who must get tested every three days to attend some workplaces.
“The higher the rate of testing, the more confidence we have that we’re scooping up all the cases in the community,” Berejiklian said.
But at least 50 of the new cases were in the community while infectious, with a further 32 cases only in isolation for part of their infectious period and 47 cases still under investigation.
There is also some concern among health officials that cases are bleeding into nearby areas of Burwood, Strathfield, the inner west and Bayside.
The premier appeared to walk back from her suggestion that a 50% threshold for vaccination could be enough to reduce lockdown restrictions after 28 August.
“It’s a combination of case numbers plus the vaccination rate that will allow us to consider what restrictions we can ease at that time, and therefore it’s really important for us to manage expectations,” she said.
“I don’t want to raise expectations because we have a lot of hard work to do between now and 28 August.
“We don’t know if we’ve peaked or it’s going to get worse. It does concern me that there were still 50 people infectious yesterday in the community. That could mean we’ll get higher numbers.”
Berejiklian said it was important for the state to keep its “options open” for the rest of the month until authorities had a clearer picture of where cases were heading.
“But we know we have greater options if we hit the 6m target [for jabs in arms].”
She said the government was still aiming for as close to zero as possible for cases infectious in the community.
“Can I be very clear – we would never relax completely at 50% vaccination rates. The Doherty report, which I understand will be made public soon … says you can’t have those freedoms at 50%,” she said.
“Every milestone we hit gives government more options. It gives us the ability to take the health advice and know that when a certain proportion of the population is vaccinated, it presents more options.”
Senior government sources had suggested that the next stage in the roadmap could include outdoor dining and reopening pubs and clubs, but the premier appeared to suggest the focus was on opening schools and returning people to work.
Figures released by the federal government on Monday show that as of 1 August, 19.28% of NSW residents aged over 16 were fully vaccinated. The rate for at least one dose was 41.57% .
Berejiklian says 3.9m jabs – or single doses – have been administered so far and both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines require two shots several weeks apart.
It will take a further four weeks to get to the premier’s target of 6m doses administered, at the current rate of 500,000 jabs a week.
The NSW chief health officer, Kerry Chant, confirmed the health department was working closely with industry and schools to look at rapid antigen testing, in order to have year 12 students return to face-to-face teaching by 16 August.
There have been reports that some private schools are contracting private health companies to provide testing facilities on site, but there are also concerns among some teachers about the planned return.
“We see a significant use case for the rapid antigen tests, particularly in industry, and we’re just working through the issues in schools in terms of what would be the appropriate risk mitigations we put in place,” Chant said.
Meanwhile, Qantas and Jetstar have stood down 2,500 airline staff for two months because of domestic border closures.