UPDATED 3:00 pm: Southern NSW health authorities are urging the Queanbeyan and Cooma communities to get tested if they are suffering even the mildest of COVID-19 symptoms, following the detection of fragments of the virus in the local sewage systems in the past 48 hours.
Queanbeyan’s sewage treatment plant, which serves about 40,000 people, is the latest location of concern, with the fragments possibly signalling undetected cases in the community.
Health authorities say expanded testing hours will be available in Cooma and Jindabyne, with a drive through facility at Cooma Showgrounds operating from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm Friday to Sunday.
Drive through testing is available at Seiffert Oval, in Queanbeyan, while Queanbeyan District Hospital offers walk-in testing.
Earlier today Deputy Premier John Barilaro said an announcement would be made on Friday about walk-in vaccination clinics for Queanbeyan, Goulburn and Bega.
2:00 pm: In a stark warning to the regions, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro has doubled down on the decision to extend the current lockdown, describing the state as “a tinderbox”.
“It does feel like a tinderbox and any spark could explode at any time,” Mr Barilaro said.
Citing locations like Merimbula and Cooma where unexplained high level sewage fragments have been detected, the deputy premier said it simply didn’t make sense to open up a few individual local government areas when so many were directly at risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.
“I want to give some hope to the regions that they are not yet tied completely to what is happening in Sydney,” Mr Barilaro said. “But parts of regional NSW, like Dubbo, probably won’t be coming out (of lockdown) at the end of two weeks.”
Mr Barilaro said sewage testing would be increased in Cooma and adjoining areas following the discovery of COVID-19 fragments there.
“We don’t know if it’s connected to Merimbula,” he said. “We will get further samples. People should be alert but not alarmed and get tested if they have any symptoms.
“Fingers crossed it was someone passing through but we just don’t know.”
Questioned about the future of the snow season, Mr Barilaro said it would become a commercial decision for the resort operators. If the high country comes out of lockdown on September 10 as hoped, there would be just two and a half weeks left in the snow season.
“Do they keep staff on, don’t they keep staff on … they will have to make a commercial decision.”
Questioned about whether he would tie Queanbeyan and Goulburn’s restrictions to the ACT’s decisions, Mr Barilaro took the opportunity to clarify earlier comments about Canberra and its role in the current outbreak.
“I don’t blame Canberra, it’s not Canberra’s fault, this started in Sydney,” he said. “(and) I’m not tying Goulburn or Queanbeyan to Canberra.”
Mr Barilaro said an announcement would be made on Friday about walk-in vaccination clinics for Goulburn, Queanbeyan and Bega, and again urged people to get vaccinated – with AstraZeneca if necessary.
“We shouldn’t be worrying about brands in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
11: 30 am: Regional NSW is facing another two weeks of lockdown as the NSW Government battles to control the creep of COVID-19 out of local government areas of concern.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has confirmed the current lockdown will continue until 12 midnight, 10 September, as NSW cases hit 1029 in the 24-hour reporting period to 8:00 pm Wednesday.
Three people died in that period – a man in his 30s, one in his 60s and one in his 80s.
Hotspot LGAs made up 80 per cent of those 1029 cases but there are growing concerns for more regional areas as sewage surveillance has detected virus fragments in several locations where there are no known cases.
Cooma has joined Merimbula, Tamworth and Brewarrina on that list.
NSW Health’s program has detected fragments in treatment plants in those areas that serve a combined population of 69,000 people.
Everyone in those areas is urged to monitor for the onset of symptoms and to get tested and isolate immediately until a negative result is received.
Western NSW, where 35 more cases emerged in the 24 hours to 8:00 pm Wednesday, remains a high concern.
The only bright spot at yesterday’s briefing was a plan to allow five people to gather outdoors from September 13 as long as all adults are fully vaccinated.
“That five can include children, but as long as it’s adults, all of them will need to be vaccinated,” Ms Berejiklian said. “We know that people coming together is what people miss the most.”
The lockdown extension is a blow to COVID-free regional local government areas hoping to start opening up after the current lockdown period ended on 28 August.
“We do appreciate there are many communities in the regions that don’t have any cases, that have never had any cases and they’re really wanting to come out of lockdown, but as a precaution, the health advice says that we should extend the lockdown to all of regional NSW,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Deputy Premier John Barilaro added that the regions were “sitting on a knife-edge”, and the extension was essential to protect communities. He will address regional media at 12:45 pm today.