Expert highlights key differences in Melbourne and Sydney coronavirus clusters as NSW works to avoid second lockdown

| 14.07,20. 06:42 AM |

Expert highlights key differences in Melbourne and Sydney coronavirus clusters as NSW works to avoid second lockdown

Experts say testing, as seen here in Liverpool in Sydney's west, needs to increase.(ABC News: Brendan Esposito)

Infectious disease experts say Sydney can avoid a Melbourne-style second lockdown if it stops multiple clusters of community transmission through hard "ring fencing", compulsory mask wearing and a renewed focus on social distancing.

Yet one expert says the Crossroads Hotel in Casula already looks like "the ember that has started a bushfire", as cases connected to the south-west Sydney hotel continue to grow, including one confirmed case at Sydney's The Star casino.

As of 12:00pm on Monday, 21 COVID-19 cases had been linked to the Casula pub — 10 people who went there, another 10 "close contacts" of that group, and one person who contracted the virus third-hand.

The fresh outbreaks in Sydney and the continued spread of the disease is stoking fears NSW is heading towards a Melbourne-like second lockdown and late last night the NSW Government reintroduced restrictions for pubs.

Australian National University infectious diseases physician Peter Collignon described the Crossroads Hotel outbreak as "worrying".

But, he said, a key trigger for further action in Sydney and across NSW would be multiple clusters of community transmission.

He said the state needed a tailored approach to try to control any clusters, such as "ring-fencing" certain areas.

"[For example] if you have an outbreak in Bondi, I am not sure Penrith [60km to the west] necessarily has to be shut down," Dr Collignon said.

"NSW at the moment doesn't justify a lockdown but it might justify a lot of contact tracing and quarantining, which they are doing."

He said health experts were tracing the spread of the Crossroads Hotel across NSW.

"Inevitably, they will be looking to see if this is something we can ring fence, or are we [already] in trouble because it is all through Sydney?" he said.

"I actually don't think [we'll] get to that situation for a while in NSW."

Yet Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist and World Health Organization adviser, said the problem with the Crossroads Hotel was the transient nature of its patrons: travellers who were likely to have already moved around Sydney, NSW and perhaps even into Queensland.

"It could well be the ember that has started the bushfire," Professor McLaws said. "You never know, they may have gone to [The Crossroads Hotel] and then could have gone anywhere."

But, she said, there were key differences between the Melbourne outbreak, which quickly spiralled out of control, and what was being seen in Sydney.

"What happened in Melbourne was incredibly unique," she said.

"We had highly interconnected family clustering. And that clustering was very big, with many people living in high density with close social and family connections.

"Sydney is at less risk than Melbourne.

"And given that the numbers have been relatively low, I hope they [the NSW authorities] will be able to control it."

She told the ABC last week the "magic number" of active cases of community transmission in NSW where authorities were so overwhelmed they could no longer do effective contact tracing was 100 cases over two incubation periods.

She said NSW was not at that "tipping point" yet.


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