NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says he’s sorry Sydney residents are facing “a COVID Christmas” after a raft of restrictions were imposed just days before Christmas.
The total number of community COVID-19 cases in NSW has risen to 70 with 68 positively linked to the so-called Avalon cluster in Sydney’s northern beaches.
The government has imposed a number of restrictions on the Sydney region, including the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Illawarra-Shoalhaven, which will remain in place until midnight on Wednesday.
Epidemiologists are calling for mandatory masks in public and predicting Christmas day could potentially turn into a super spreader event.
NSW cabinet will meet on Wednesday to decide whether restrictions and lockdowns will continue past midnight, stay the same, or be extended for Christmas day.
“I’m sorry that it is a COVID Christmas,” Mr Hazzard told ABC radio on Monday.
Meanwhile, two people have been fined for visiting Manly on the northern beaches on Sunday without a lawful excuse.
“(It’s) very disappointing that after nine months of people living with these restrictions, they still want to run the gauntlet,” NSW Police Minister David Elliott told Seven Network.
On Monday, more health alerts were issued for gyms, cafes, restaurants, a nursery and a sports centre across Freshwater, Mona Vale, Newport and Warriewood on the northern beaches as well as Double Bay in Sydney’s east.
NSW Labor said the NSW government should make face masks mandatory on public transport.
Mr Hazzard said while everyone in Sydney should be wearing masks when shopping, on public transport or when out in the general community the government had no plans to make it mandatory.
“If we have bus drivers having to act like police … there is already a level of anxiety for them and we don’t want to put them in a situation where they will be policemen and possibly getting into the sorts of fights that might happen,” he told ABC TV.
With just four days until Christmas, Sydneysiders are facing a nervous wait to learn if the northern beaches cluster has spread across the region, after every state and territory moved to block them from entering.
Some states also imposed restrictions on residents of the Central Coast, the city of Wollongong or the entire Illawarra-Shoalhaven region.
On Sunday, northern beaches residents were put in lockdown until midnight on Wednesday and no-one can enter the region without a lawful excuse.
They are permitted to leave their homes for five basic reasons: to seek medical care, exercise, grocery shop, work or for compassionate care reasons.
Since Sunday people in Greater Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Illawarra-Shoalhaven can have a maximum of 10 in their homes and patrons need to maintain a four-square metre distancing at venues.
Up to 300 people are permitted at places of worship and hospitality venues, while singing and chanting at indoor venues is banned and dance floors are only allowed at weddings.
People are also being urged to avoid visiting any vulnerable friends, relatives or aged-care facilities until Christmas Eve.