NSW faces ‘disaster’ if lockdown ends before COVID-19 outbreak eliminated, expert warns

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NSW will face a “disaster” if lockdown ends before the state eliminates the current COVID-19 outbreak, the head of Australia’s medical association says.

NSW Health announced 38 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Thursday, making it the highest number of new infections in 24 hours in over a year. 

Chief health officer Kerry Chant said 40 cases were in hospital, including 17 people aged under 55. Of those, 10 were aged under 35.

The Australian Medical Association’s president Omar Khorshid told the ABC it was not feasible for NSW to continue life as normal like other countries have.

“There’s no such thing as living with the Delta [variant] for NSW. We must eliminate the virus from the community before opening up again, otherwise we will see a disaster.”

Dr Khorshid foreshadowed the hospital system becoming destabilised if it overloads with extremely sick COVID-19 patients putting pressure on other areas. 

“We’ve seen 10 per cent of cases already in hospital. Just multiply that to thousands and thousands of cases.

“Imagine what you might experience if you need to go to hospital for urgent care such as with a heart attack or cancer.”

The key reason that Australia differs from our overseas counterparts who have opened up despite the Delta strain being present relies on immunity. 

Raina MacIntyre insists more vaccinations are needed before lockdowns can be scrapped.(

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UNSW professor Raina MacIntyre, an expert in infectious diseases, says previous infections in a population helps fight against how deadly the impact is. 

“Somewhere like the UK which is opening up now, they have very high vaccination rate but also only have a substantial level of previous infections. So that’s a very different situation to Sydney, which has no immunity,” she said.

“In countries like the UK you can still get infected with Delta after you’ve had the vaccine but you’re not likely to die from it  — but with no vaccination or immunity, you’re more likely to die.”

The Delta strain is the most contagious NSW has seen, with transmission inside households at 100 per cent.

“We were seeing 25 per cent last year on average. It’s highly contagious,” Professor MacIntyre said.

Dr Khorshid said a more realistic comparison for Sydneysiders was to look towards India or Indonesia to foreshadow what Delta could do to an unvaccinated country with previously low rates of infection.

“We are not in the situation of the US or the UK, where we have very significant numbers of people vaccinated. We need to look at India or Indonesia to see what the reality will be in Australia if we let this virus rip through the community,” he said.

The federal government released COVID-19 vaccine data last week that showed only 7.92 per cent of the population over 16 had been fully vaccinated since our vaccination program began on February 20.

Gladys Berejiklian talks to the media
Gladys Berejiklian urged Sydneysiders not to visit family or friends.(

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said NSW would receive 300,000 extra doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines to help bring the growing COVID-19 outbreak under control.

But Dr Khorshid said a restricted state must remain the norm for now.

“The reality is, the only solution for now, is to continue lockdowns until the virus is eliminated,” he said.

Professor MacIntyre echoed his sentiments, saying the lockdown was working but more vaccination was required, particularly with the virus seeping into hospitals, aged care and schools.

“We need to reach 80 per cent of the population with vaccinations. That means we need to be thinking about vaccinating children, at least children 12 and up.”

Premier Gladys Berejiklian hinted that stricter restrictions may be enforced as numbers grow and vaccination rates remain low, although she said ending the lockdown as planned was “achievable”.

“There isn’t anywhere on the planet that has managed to live with this variant … without having a proportion of the population vaccinated,” she said.

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