How a COVID-19 outbreak changed Sydney – and the key moments that led to the lockdown being lifted

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Four months ago, residents of NSW were profiting from zero COVID – dancing in bars, eating in restaurants, working in offices and learning in schools.

But that all changed on June 16.

It started out as a case, but within 10 days it has exploded and Greater Sydney has been put on lockdown, it won’t start to emerge until next week.

So far in the outbreak, more than 60,000 people have been infected with COVID-19, while nearly 7,000 have been admitted to hospital and more than 400 have died.

Here’s what the Sydney Delta epidemic has looked like since June, viewed in 21 seconds.

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The map shows the cases, according to postal codes.

Infections are visualized with dots and colors are important.

Darker red dots represent areas with a higher concentration of people infected with the virus.

The first dots are visible around Bondi, in the eastern suburbs.

But the map illustrates how the virus quickly moved west and took hold in other areas.

This change would become the story of Sydney’s fight to contain the outbreak.

Khal Asfour, mayor of the Canterbury-Bankstown Local Government Area (LGA) in southwest Sydney, said cases were spreading so quickly in his area because 80% of workers were in essential jobs like the logistics and transport.

“Then people went home, and because we have bigger families there was a spread, because the Delta variant was very, very contagious,” he said.

Bankstown, in southwest Sydney, was one of the hardest hit suburbs during the Delta outbreak.(

ABC News: Tim Swanston

)

By the end of July, 12 LGAs in the west and southwest of the city had been identified as specific “areas of concern”.

This meant they were subject to even tighter lockdown restrictions and COVID-19 testing regimes.

These 12 LGAs received more than 44,000 cases, i.e. 74 percent of total NSW.

The delta extends to the regions

On August 11, the virus reached Dubbo in western New South Wales after a couple who had stayed in western Sydney returned home.

While cases had already fled from the metropolitan area to neighboring population centers like Wollongong and Newcastle, the Dubbo outbreak was of particular concern.

Authorities have identified lower vaccination rates, limited access to health infrastructure and a higher proportion of vulnerable people, including indigenous communities, as reasons for an outbreak in West New South Wales was of particular concern.

Here’s how the outbreak spread across regional NSW.

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COVID quickly spread to Broken Hill, Walgett and the largely Indigenous community of Wilcannia.

At that time, only 8% of Indigenous people in western New South Wales were fully immunized.

Indigenous epidemiologist Kalinda Griffiths from the University of NSW told ABC News on Aug. 17 that very little data was available on local vaccination rates.

“It’s really essential because it lets us know who needs what and where,” she said.

She said Indigenous health services were best placed to improve immunization rates in First Nations communities.

“This is why it is really important to listen to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders on how best to work on the ground,” she said.

Over 1,300 of people have been infected with COVID in western New South Wales, particularly Dubbo (919), Bourke (142), Broken Hill (121) and Wilcannia (150).

Thousands of vaccines were sent to the region in August.

While vaccination rates among indigenous people in New South Wales have improved since then, in many regional communities more than 60% of indigenous people are not fully vaccinated.

The health system under pressure

On July 11, an infected 90-year-old woman died at Liverpool Hospital in southwest Sydney – the first death from the Delta outbreak.

By the end of August, more than 700 people had been hospitalized with the virus and hospitals in western Sydney were refusing some COVID-19 patients.

The NSW government has always been clear that the closures are necessary to prevent the hospital system from being overwhelmed.

Burnett Institute modeling released by the NSW government showed cases would peak at between 1,100 and 2,000 per day in mid-September and hospitalizations in late October between 2,200 and 3,900.

On the number of cases, the prediction was remarkably accurate, with a maximum seven-day average of 1,363 on September 12.

However, the model miscalculated the peak in hospitalizations.

They appear to have peaked at a seven-day moving average of 1,263 on September 23, although that may change as fully vaccinated people in lockdown areas are granted a series of new freedoms starting Monday.

Fiona Stanaway, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Sydney, said the lockdown was key to reducing the number of cases.

“Particularly because we came from such a small base of weak vaccinations,” she said.

“If we hadn’t had the lockdown we would have had a much higher caseload and an overwhelmed hospital system, and much higher deaths, so the lockdown was absolutely necessary. “

She said the added effect of the vaccines ultimately brought the cases under control.

Data from NSW Health showed that only 4% of people with COVID who were hospitalized until September 18 were fully vaccinated.

Three patients can be seen in beds in a hospital ward.
Frontline workers have been pushed to their limits in Sydney’s COVID-19 intensive care units.(

Provided

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Vaccines to the rescue

At the start of the epidemic, only 8% of New South Wales residents were fully vaccinated.

But as residents of the state rushed to get the jab, Pfizer’s stocks were running out and authorities begged people to make an appointment instead with AstraZeneca, which NSW was “inundated with,” according to the minister. Brad Hazzard Health.

On August 15, 500,000 doses of Pfizer arrived from Poland and were injected into the arms of 18 to 40 year olds in the 12 LGAs involved.

Dr Stanaway said the strategy was the right one.

“I think it had a positive impact, both by targeting young people who were in jobs where they were likely to transmit, but also by targeting the elderly in their suburbs so that they would be protected if they were infected. by their young children or grandchildren who were the essential workers, ”she said.

The vaccination blitz saw the number of people given a dose more than double in several areas considered to be hot spots.

Mr Asfour said residents of Canterbury-Bankstown felt unfairly targeted as rule breakers.

“I think the proof is that the rapid pace of our vaccination rates has gone from so low to so high in such a short time,” he said.

“It’s proof that we want to do the right thing and that we are doing the right thing.”

This week, NSW reached the goal of fully immunizing 70% of its population aged 16 and over.

As part of the state government’s COVID-19 roadmap, achieving 70% double-dose coverage triggers a massive easing of lockdown restrictions.

This means that people who received both jabs will be able to do things like eat out, go to the gym, and visit friends’ homes starting Monday.

But the population is called upon to become even more protected.

People wearing masks in a queue
The NSW government stepped up efforts to get the people of Sydney vaccinated before easing restrictions.(

ABC News: Tim Swanston

)

About 90% of New South Wales residents aged 16 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and Dr Stanaway said additional coverage was important.

This is the difference between countries like Denmark (75 percent of the total population) and Portugal (85 percent), which controlled the number of cases after reopening, and the UK (66 percent) and Israel (64 percent), both of which opened to lower immunization levels.

The UK and Israel opened with few restrictions and have seen very high numbers of cases since.

“Getting those immunization rates above 90% is fantastic,” said Dr Stanaway.

“This will help us, not only in terms of transmission of cases, but most importantly the health system, and ensure that when we have epidemics, the health system does not get overwhelmed.”

Over 90 percent of NSW residents aged 65 and over have received a dose of the vaccine, providing a high level of protection to the most vulnerable residents.

The vaccination was opened to young people aged 12 to 15 on September 15, and in just one month, 44% nationwide received their first dose.

Dr Stanaway said high vaccination rates among older people would reduce hospitalizations, but warned there were gaps in coverage, including among indigenous populations and parts of North New Wales from South.

While residents of NSW are hoping the cases do not spill over and blockages become a thing of the past, Mr Asfour said his community is still feeling the effects of the stigma.

“I think we’ll be one Sydney again,” he said.

“We will forgive but it will take a while. But we will certainly not forget the way we were treated by the government with their finger pointed.”

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