NSW is facing the most critical stage of the COVID-19 pandemic since the initial late-March lockdown as authorities attempt to contain the transmission from recent clusters.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian implored residents to avoid crowds and limit non-essential travel over the weekend and next few weeks, and said there is no excuse for businesses to ignore COVID-19 safety rules.
“The next few weeks are the most critical in NSW since the lockdown earlier in March and April,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
“We are not out of the woods yet, quite the opposite … We have some level of anxiety regarding the extent of community transmission.”
Berejiklian said businesses are also on notice as a new suite of COVID-19 measures come into place on Friday to ensure compliance with social distancing and other safety guidelines.
The premier noted the guidelines were previously not compulsory, but a lack of compliance made the government change its tune.
“Any business which doesn’t do the right thing will have the book thrown at them,” she said.
“There is so much at stake and so much on the line.”
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said residents needed to be extra cautious as authorities work to “mop up” the community transmission from recent weeks.
“What we’re attempting to do is put the fences up and contain it,” she told reporters.
Chant noted that if someone who tests positive for COVID-19 has avoided crowds, limited their activities and ensures social distancing, the opportunity for them to spread the infection is lowered.
“In essence, that chain of transmission effectively gets blocked,” she said.
The state recorded 16 new COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8 p.m. on Tuesday including one in hotel quarantine, three linked to the Crossroads Hotel in Casula and 11 associated with the Thai Rock restaurant in Wetherill Park.
The total number of cases linked to the Crossroads Hotel cluster has now reached 53, while 37 cases are associated with the Thai Rock outbreak.
NSW Health began testing staff and residents at Ashfield Baptist Homes in Sydney’s inner west on Wednesday after a staff member tested positive to COVID-19.
The staff member dined at Thai Rock and the aged care facility is closed to visitors while test results are pending.
“The risk to other staff and residents is considered to be very low as the staff member wore masks, gloves and gowns when working with residents and did not work while symptomatic,” a NSW Health spokeswoman said in a statement.
Chant said genomic sequencing has shown the strain circulating in NSW is similar to the one in Victoria, but experts did not believe that one person was the source of all the separate outbreaks.
It comes as tougher border restrictions come into force for people wanting to enter NSW from Victoria, including a border zone established along the Murray River.
The new restrictions began at midnight, with cross-border travel permitted solely for work, education, medical care, supplies or health services.
Transport Workers Union NSW secretary Richard Olsen said the cancellation of previous travel permits and the need to reapply had caused “confusion, anxiety and angst” in the transport industry on Tuesday.
“Drivers are already under pressure, with the squeeze on the transport industry as a critical service during this pandemic,” Olsen said in a statement.
“The NSW government must do better and allow for drivers to plan ahead so they can continue the provision of an essential critical service.”
By Dominica Sanda, Ashlea Witoslawski and Angelo Risso