Signs NSW has lost control of virus
As COVID-19 cases linked to a cluster at Sydney's Crossroads Hotel steadily increased over the weekend, NSW Health was swift to put its foot down and issue urgent advice to any customers who'd visited the venue.
There are now 21 coronavirus infections linked to the Casula pub, with NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant telling reporters today that the race was on to find "patient zero".
"Investigations are ongoing as to the source," Dr Chant said.
"It is very important we investigate this thoroughly, before disclosing what we think is the origins."
Sydneysiders who had been to the pub between July 3 and 10 were asked to self-isolate for 14 days and present for testing, with the outbreak marking a "critical point" in the future of NSW's fight against coronavirus.
How the cluster is handled will no doubt signal whether we're still moving toward eradicating COVID-19 like Australia's other states and territories, or heading down the same path as Victoria - where another 177 infections were reported yesterday and Premier Daniel Andrews threatened a stage four lockdown if things aren't brought under control.
But as venues linked to new infections in NSW emerged on Monday, a turnaround in the public health advice to patrons could signal the state is waving the white flag in the face of a second coronavirus wave.
At least four Sydney pubs and clubs have been linked to positive coronavirus cases, sparking fears of further community transmission, and Dr Chant revealed at least 10 venues where people who were later found to be infected with COVID-19 had visited in late June and early July.
But while the Crossroads Hotel patrons were told to enter lockdown by not only NSW Health, but Australia's deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth, anyone who might have attended these newly-identified venues has been issued with far less urgent advice.
Rather than being confined to their homes for 14 days, these residents have merely been asked to watch for any coronavirus symptoms while going about their daily business over the next fortnight - leaving the future of NSW being in control of coronavirus on shaky ground.
"And if they (symptoms) occur to isolate and get tested from COVID right away so we're not actually asking people to isolate themselves," Dr Chant said.
"The interviews have highlighted that either the individuals were unlikely to be infectious at these times, or the nature of the contact at these venues was minimal, but we do want to highlight these settings and ensure that people are appropriately isolating."
It comes as The Australian reports senior NSW Government ministers argued for advocating keeping the economy open rather than returning to a widespread lockdown as Victoria has done.
The newspaper said economic recovery was uppermost in the minds of Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet in a meeting late on Monday night.
The NSW premier is set to announce a crackdown on pub numbers today, reverting to restrictions on group bookings to 10 people and larger venues restricted to 300 patrons.
RELATED: NSW pubs introduce new COVID rules
Australians have returned to congregating, hugging and kissing as if coronavirus is a thing of the past, suffering from what experts have dubbed "social distancing fatigue".
"It was always a risk," Deakin University chair in epidemiology Catherine Bennett said.
"I think we've seen what people are calling social distancing fatigue. There's still a lot doing the right thing but it doesn't take many to relax their guard to get this local transmission."
This "fatigue" has been made clear by the current situation in Victoria, Professor Bennett said, and further prevention of COVID-19's spread will rely on precautions at venues in other states potentially tightening to keep people in line.
"It gets very hard to stay on top of it," she said, adding while the situation is not yet "explosive", clearly "something" has gone wrong in NSW.
"The two things now that are going to make the difference is firstly testing, timing and co-operating, but fundamentally keeping up the personal distance, sneeze watching and hand washing."
RELATED: All the Sydney venues on high alert
But NSW residents aren't the only ones who can't afford to become complacent, Australian Medical Association (AMA) NSW President Danielle McMullen pointed out, with a consistent approach from authorities integral to the state's success.
"The recent resurgence of coronavirus cases in Victoria has shown just how easily it can slip through gaps in infection control measures," Dr McMullen said last Wednesday.
"The pandemic isn't over just because NSW had initial success in containing COVID-19.
"We're still amongst it and, unfortunately, we don't know when it will end.
"As the Premier has said, what's happened in Victoria could happen anywhere in Australia and we still need to be adhering to social distancing rules.
"It's everyone's responsibility to help NSW contain the spread of coronavirus and maintain that suppression."
Originally published as Signs NSW has lost control of virus