Aussies Won’t Be Locked Down for Christmas

Aussies Won’t Be Locked Down for Christmas
Sydney Christmas Tree on Nov. 22, 2018 at Martin Place, Sydney. (Katherine Griffiths)

Most Australians won’t be locked down over Christmas after the NSW government eased restrictions on gatherings in Sydney’s COVID-19 hotspot.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says northern beaches residents will be allowed limited visitors over Christmas after eight new locally acquired cases were reported in the 24 hours to 8 p.m. on Dec. 22.

The NSW changes mean that people in every state and territory, who are not in quarantine or isolation, can gather with friends or family over the festive break after a trying year of pandemic restrictions.

“They’re modest tweaks and modest changes to account for the fact that everybody has had a very difficult year and some people’s stress levels and mental health capacity is already at breaking point and we want to put that against the current risks as we see them,” Berejiklian told reporters on Wednesday.

Restrictions for regional NSW will remain unchanged, while up to 10 people and unlimited children aged under 12 will be permitted to gather on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day across Greater Sydney.

Northern beaches residents north of the Narrabeen Bridge will be allowed to host up to five people in their homes - however they must only be people from the local area.

On the southern end of the peninsula up to 10 people will be allowed to visit, but locals may not leave the area.

Seven of the cases reported on Wednesday were linked to the northern beaches cluster, but an eighth case is a contact of an infected quarantine nurse.

NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said genomic testing matched the two cases with the cluster but they were still trying to find the person who spread it to the pair.

“They’re the ones that cause us particular concern, because it means that there’s been people out in the community potentially going to a number of exposure venues for which we are currently unaware,” she said.

Victoria also reported no new cases after a 15-year-old girl contracted the virus in Sydney before driving home to Melbourne with her mother.

State testing commander Jeroen Weimar said four other family members have tested negative to the virus and are isolating together at their home.

“I would not be surprised if other members of the household do turn positive, but if they’re isolating effectively and we’ve got lots of people there to ensure that we support them to do just that, then the virus should not go any further,” Weimar told ABC Radio.

With no other cases of community transmission in the rest of the country, Australians are set to celebrate a relatively normal Christmas.

Up to 30 people can gather in Victoria, while 50 people are allowed to get together in Queensland, South Australia and the ACT provided they keep a 1.5 metre distance.

Tasmanians and people in the NT can have up to 100 people around for Christmas, while in Western Australia there is no limit.

There are kilometres of gridlock as people are still trying to get into Queensland and Victoria on Wednesday with hard borders in place to stop the spread of the virus from Greater Sydney.

People who have been in the city or its surrounds are currently banned from visiting every state and territory due to the northern beaches outbreak.

Those who do decide to travel interstate must undergo mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine on arrival.

Some have decided to do that and with many people still returning from overseas, hundreds of Australians will spend Christmas in hotel quarantine or self-isolation around the country.

Marty Silk in Brisbane
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