NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has denied ignoring health advice by unveiling plans to reopen her state for the fully vaccinated at 70 per cent double-dose coverage, but acknowledged her need to “weigh up health advice with public policy”.
The unvaccinated in NSW have a little over a month to get double-jabbed if they want to visit friends, dine out, travel to the regions or go to the barber or gym.
Under a roadmap out of COVID-19 lockdown announced by Ms on Thursday, a suite of restrictions will be eased when 70 per cent of the state’s eligible residents are fully vaccinated – expected by mid-October.
These freedoms will be restored only for the fully vaccinated – and will come as the state is likely still reporting about 500 coronavirus cases every day.
On Friday, NSW reached 43.6 per cent of its adult population fully vaccinated, with 76.4 per cent having had a single dose.
It came after cases surged to a record high of 1542 after days of lower numbers.
There were also nine more deaths, taking the state’s COVID toll since the outbreak began to 162. The were a man in his 30s, another in his 50s, two in their 60s, two in their 70s, a woman in her 40s, another in her 50s and one in her 80s.
Earlier, Ms Berejiklian denied reports that chief health officer Kerry Chant wanted to wait until NSW reached 85 per cent coverage before reopening.
She insisted Dr Chant – who was absent from Thursday’s announcement of the reopening details, and Friday’s briefing – signed off on the plan.
Ms Berejiklian said it was the state government’s job to also consider other factors, including mental health, freedom of movement and relationships.
“What we need to do is always weigh up that health advice with public policy and I would never do anything where the health experts completely objected to anything or did not think it was safe,” Ms Berejiklian told the Nine Network on Friday.
“It is going to be challenging, but it’s a road all states will have to take.”
Ms Berejiklian reiterated, however, that current lockdown settings would remain until the 70 per cent milestone is reached.
NSW residents would have to refrain from “letting loose” before then, she said.
As a sole exception, up to five fully vaccinated NSW residents outside the 12 western Sydney council areas of concern can convene for picnics from Monday.
The freedoms to be restored in mid-October will be policed via a vaccination status feature added to the Service NSW app’s QR code check-in tool.
But the government has emphasised some restrictions on movement may still be required in areas where case numbers are too high.
It is also working on a plan for life in NSW beyond 80 per cent double vaccinations.
“There is definitely further things we can do at 80 per cent or 85 per cent which you can’t do at 70,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“This is just our way of managing how we live with COVID and the inevitability that Australia will come to terms with, every state is going to have to go through this.
“What we have done is completely based on health advice.”
While NSW’s reopening plan was enthusiastically welcomed by business and tourism industry bodies, the Australian Medical Association criticised it as lacking sufficient detail.
The AMA says it wants modelling of future case numbers and health system impacts and would prefer a slow and steady reopening rather than removing too many restrictions at once.
AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid called said the roadmap unveiled on Thursday appeared to “leave NSW at considerable risk of having to return to lockdowns”.
While NSW had 1405 more local cases and another five deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday, some virus-free regional areas – including the north coast, Riverina and Murrumbidgee – will be released from lockdown.
The state government has warned these areas face a return from to snap lockdowns if COVID cases climb too high.
The toll for the current NSW outbreak is 153.
Also on Friday, the NSW government will unveil the HSC exam timetable for 2021. It has been back due to the coronavirus outbreak and a return in Sydney to remote learning.
Elsewhere, pressure is mounting for Victorian health authorities to outline freedom measures for when the state hits its milestone of 70 per cent of people over 16 fully vaccinated.
Premier Daniel Andrews said experts were still nutting out a plan.
“I’ve got some draft modelling [but] it’s still got a bit more to go. I know it’s very frustrating, you’d love to be able to turn this around in 24 hours, but they need more data as well,” he said.
Victoria confirmed 334 COVID more local cases on Friday, and another fatality. So far, four people have died in the state’s current Delta outbreak.
The ACT will unveil its plan to gradually reopen Canberra on Tuesday.