NSW covid updates: Investigation into driver, Sydney restrictions, new cases

Questions are being raised over whether a loophole in health orders led to Sydney’s Covid-19 outbreak, with fears it points to a wider issue.

An investigation into the limousine driver believed to be at the centre of Sydney’s Covid-19 outbreak have raised questions of whether there is a loophole in public health orders, allowing “viral bombs” to drive around the city.

NSW Health confirmed a rise of 11 new covid cases yesterday, with 48 infections now linked to Sydney’s outbreak.

All but one of yesterday’s cases were linked to known a known case or cluster, with “urgent investigations” underway into how a man in his 40s contracted the virus. There are now three mystery cases being investigated.

Here are today’s top Covid-19 updates:

• Health authorities have issued a significant list of new Covid-19 exposure sites across Sydney.

• There are reports panic buying in Sydney, with toilet paper once again in high demand.

• The driver at the centre of Sydney’s outbreak has broken his silence to make a bombshell claim about his infection.

Fears ‘viral bombs’ putting NSW at risk

A man in his 60s who works for a private company transporting international flight crews to and from Sydney Airport is understood to be the first case in the outbreak after testing positive to Covid-19 on June 16.

It quickly emerged that the man wasn’t vaccinated despite working in a high-risk job and hadn’t been undergoing daily covid testing.

This prompted a police investigation into whether other these and other safety protocols, such as wearing a mask, had been followed.

RELATED: Concerning detail in Sydney outbreak

But now it seems the driver’s actions could point to a much wider issue, as it is revealed he was not explicitly required to wear a mask or be vaccinated, even though it was expected for drivers interacting with international flight crews.

Federal Labor Senator Tony Sheldon told The Daily Telegraph the revelation pointed to a “fundamental breakdown” in the system, which was putting the wider community at risk.

“Because of the lack of oversight and proper process, companies are actually allowing viral bombs to be driven around the streets of Sydney,” he said.

Mr Sheldon’s comments come after the driver spoke to A Current Affair’s Lauren Golman, preferring to remain anonymous amid fears for his and his family’s safety.

Relaying the conversation to host Tracy Grimshaw, Ms Sheldon revealed the reason why the driver wasn’t vaccinated is because he was worried about getting the AstraZeneca vaccine due to a history of blood clots in his family.

He also claimed he was wearing a mask and gloves while working and gets tested regularly.

RELATED: ‘Serious failure’ that led to outbreak

One of the most surprising claims the man made is that he believes he isn’t patient zero and instead picked up the virus in the local community.

He told Ms Golman he was not working between June 12 and June 14. He was tested for Covid on Tuesday morning and claims he caught it from another patron at the Belle Cafe in Vaucluse.

“He told me a story about the fact that he was sitting next to a gentleman who looked like he was in his 30s, who was coughing and sneezing, he became worried, sitting next to that person and he thinks he caught it at Belle Cafe at Vaucluse,” Ms Colman said.

On Thursday, NSW Police deputy commissioner Gary Worboys said the investigation was ongoing and had been expanded to include the company the driver works for.

“That investigation continues, as we think more about the offences that may have been committed,” he said.

“We’re thinking now around how we look at this, these actions of transport drivers and indeed this particular driver around transport offences, work health and safety offences, not just the driver but the organisation that employs the driver.

“It’s not as simple as issuing a ticket to this gentleman, thinking that the whole system is repaired [as a result] or one person is responsible for where we are at today.”

This has raised questions about whether there is a loophole in the system that allows private companies to bypass the covid safety rules required to be followed by Transport for NSW drivers.

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Health Minister Brad Hazzard made it very clear yesterday that the driver should have been getting a daily Covid-19 test.

“He should have been getting a daily swab and the result of that is he also would have been into the vaccination program. So it’s all a bit strange that he wasn’t in that situation,” he told 2GB.

Mr Hazzard said he instructed the health department to draw up new orders to cover any potential gaps in the current system, such as explicitly requiring drivers to wear masks and be vaccinated.

“They were explaining to me again that there are some challenges in that regard, but I said to them I’m not prepared to put up with the challenges, I just want it done,” he said.

Sydney lockdown calls resisted

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian resisted growing calls to put Sydney into lockdown on Thursday, reinforcing the current health advice was in line with the threat posed by the outbreak.

She said the state is dealing with a “very contagious variant” and, while she expects cases to rise over the coming days, she believes the current rules are “appropriate” and a lockdown isn’t necessary.

“Can I say that since the pandemic has started, this is perhaps the scariest period that NSW is going through,” she said.

“I do want to stress that my level of concern is medium to high across NSW but at the same time, a couple of things that we are pleased about is that all the new cases are one are linked and that one is under investigation.

“So we do expect more cases in the coming days but we also please expect everybody to do the right thing.”

On Wednesday, a raft of restrictions were introduced for Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast, Shellharbour and Wollongong, including rules around household gatherings, the reintroduction of the one person per four square metre rule, mask wearing indoors and no vertical consumption at hospitality venues.

A ban on travelling outside of metropolitan Sydney was also introduced for seven Sydney LGAs.

Despite officials saying they are confident the current restrictions match the risk posed by the outbreak, many epidemiologists have expressed concerns that not enough is being done.

Epidemiologist and editor in chief of the Medical Journal of Australia, Professor Nicholas Talley believes introducing tough restrictions early on is the best way to combat the highly-infectious Delta strain currently circulating in Sydney.

“I’m concerned the restrictions are not tough enough — this is the Delta variant, the worst possible threat, and going hard and early will provide the community the greatest safety,” he told the ABC.

Epidemiologist and advisor to the World Health Organisation, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws has repeatedly called for a snap lockdown, saying stay at home orders are now “overdue”.

“Outbreak management should first and foremost be based on a duty of care to the community,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Delta VOC, highly infectious with adverse effect on vaccine efficacy. Stay-at-home order is overdue.”

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