Has NSW failed?

Andreas Ortmann
5 min readJul 18, 2021

(Update at the end.)

A lot of questionable stuff — some of it outright rubbish — has been written, and tweeted (wouldn’t you know it), in the last 48 hours in anticipation of, and response to, the NSW government’s decision to tighten restrictions for the Fairfield, Bankstown-Canterbury, and Liverpool Local Government Areas (LGAs), to shut down for two weeks all construction sites, and to shut down (and define) non-critical businesses until further notice. The usual too-little-too-late voices were at it again but this time also those who think that these additional restrictions are disproportionate to the number of people that are in hospitals, in ICUs, and on respirators because of COVID-19.

Fact is that the NSW government has managed to bend the curve once again and that is has prevented the outbreak from running away exponentially. Given the significantly higher infectiousness of the COVID-19 virus delta variant that is a success, as Berejiklian has stated correctly for days now. What NSW Health/government have, however, not been able to do is bend the curve down as they initially hoped could be done with the initial restrictions that were derided by some as mockdown, or staycations.

The tightening of restrictions that Berejiklian announced yesterday seems in light of that “failure” a sensible decision given what we know about the infectiousness of the delta variant of the virus. While the numbers have stabilized, putting those three LGAs (which for about a week now have accounted for 75–85% of the new cases) under some form of quarantine was clearly needed to push new case numbers, and in particular those fully or partially infectious in the community, down. It surprised me to hear from the good doctor (Chant) that construction sites have become an issue because it seems that covid-safe work outside should be easy to organize. Alas, it seems construction workers on too many sites seemed too often to ignore good social-distancing and mask-wearing practices.

I am by no means a fan of Berejiklian, or her government for that matter (of which significant parts seem corrupt and/or incompetent), but overall B and those involved in public-health decision-making seem — so far — to have handled the situation well. Not perfect — in particular the messaging has often been poor, last but not least on Berejiklian’s part— but well. Clearly, Dr Chant and her team deserve considerable credit for it.

To those that once again clamor (mostly from tenured sinecures that allow them to proselytize, without worry, from home) that the latest interventions are yet another example of too little too late, let’s recall that there are costs to these actions — the two-week lockdown of the construction sites is reported to cost $1.4 billion for example, not counting the massive disruptions to the hospitality industry, learning, preventive health, and so on. Let’s in particular recall that Berejiklian and her government did not shut down borders, or the city, at previous outbreaks (with the notable exception of the Northern Beaches late last year/early this year) and that they did not give in to alarmism of the worst kind at the end of last year, thus allowing people to enjoy the fireworks, enjoy a sense of normalcy, and keep their sanity.

There are trade-offs. The Berejiklian and her government have navigated them so far, against massive online and other media abuse, in respectable ways. I certainly am happy to live in Sydney rather than Melbourne, and felt that way from the very beginning of the pandemic. The new case numbers have stabilized (unfortunately also the number of those infectious in the community) and will probably stay where they currently are for a few days until the restrictions start to bite. I expect that to happen towards the middle of the coming week.

P.S. Just came across this very good thread on distribution of social disadvantage in Melbourne and Sydney: https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1400234484155310080.html

P.P.S. An update almost a week later. The numbers have not gone in the direction NSW Chief Health Officer had hoped. Rather than slowly drifting down towards the end of the week, they have increased. Not dramatically so but they have increased. Particularly troublesome is the fact that the number of cases that were fully or partially in the community (or whose cases are under investigation) has sat stubbornly between 60–70 percent).

Troublesome is also the fact that high cases numbers have spilled over into Cumberland which together with Blacktown was yesterday subjected to the same harsh mobility restrictions that a week earlier Fairfield, B-C, and Liverpool were put under. The mobility score for Sydney was already lower than the one for Melbourne when that additional action was taken.

Dr Chant and her team, and for that matter the Berejiklian government, face a difficult situation since transmission is continuing in households, supermarkets, and critical workplaces including food processing and logistics.

“And these workplaces are not hairdressers or discretionary premises, they are premises that actually put food on the table for people in Sydney. Because of that, we need to get vaccines into younger people in south-western Sydney,” she said.

Which is why Chant and the government now try to get as many people vaccinated in those areas as possible. Unfortunately, while AZ jabs are in excess supply, Pfizer jabs are in dire excess demand.

“Every day, people from those local government areas have to go out to work to keep our city going. They are doing critical food production, critical work to keep society functioning, and we are seeing cases introduce the virus into various workplaces,” Dr Chant said.

The saving grace is that the problem is really concentrated in those five LGAs which hopefully means, with very high testing rates and further decreasing mobility score, we are at or near the peak of the outbreak.



Andreas Ortmann

EconProf: I post occasionally on whatever tickles my fancy: Science, evidence production, the Econ tribe, Oz politics, etc. Y’all r entitled to my opinions …