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NSW can strive to stop COVID-19 community transmission

It once seemed that we would emerge from the lockdown that started in March and return to normal. It is now clear that life during the pandemic will not be quite the same and authorities will be ramping up and winding down control measures, depending on their assessment of risks.

Most likely, this will be an iterative process in which measures are announced and then fine-tuned based on what works.

Despite NSW Health saying there had been only seven new cases in the previous 24 hours, new restrictions came into effect on Friday curtailing the size of groups in restaurants, bars and cafes to 10 people. Staff in NSW public hospitals will all have to wear masks if they are near patients.

NSW is also now urging people to delay trips away to areas where small clusters have spread, such as the South Coast and Port Stephens.

Just because the latest outbreak started in Victoria, NSW must realise that it is not immune.

While our borders are theoretically closed, plenty of Victorian essential workers such as truck drivers will continue to go back and forth. South Australia recorded its first case in weeks on Friday from an essential worker from Victoria who travelled to Adelaide.

The Herald likes to joke at Melbourne’s expense on various topics (beaches and weather come to mind), but this is not a time for interstate rivalry. The series of problems that have allowed the virus to spread in Melbourne could very easily have happened here.

In Victoria it was reckless behaviour in hotel quarantine, but NSW only managed to avoid a similar disaster by the skin of its teeth after the Ruby Princes docked.

Rather than criticising Victoria, NSW should be learning from its experience and refining its processes to face the continuing challenges in suppressing the disease.

With Victorians now wearing masks, NSW residents should also be considering wearing them, at least in crowded areas such as public transport and shops.

The NSW government should learn, too, from the systemic problems which have emerged in Victoria. Each part of our public health system must be under constant review.

NSW should also pay attention to the problems in Melbourne where people have gone to work even after experiencing symptoms, or have continued to travel or work after testing positive. Contact tracers in Melbourne have struggled to track down people who do not answer their phone.

The Victorian government has responded by paying $300 pandemic leave to casuals because they need the money and by sending out teams to knock on people’s doors to ensure they are self-isolating. The same issues could easily arise here. NSW must make sure it is ready.

Thankfully, the unity of national cabinet that came under pressure over the closure of state borders seems to have held. Scott Morrison has set an excellent example by refraining from taking cheap shots at Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Asked about the problems faced in Victoria, Mr Morrison has said, “It’s my job to support them.”

All people in NSW have their jobs to do, too, until a vaccine or treatments are developed. We must observe the rules, get tested if we have symptoms and offer a hand to those who need it.

Some will say the national cabinet’s goal of ending all community transmission is too ambitious. They advocate a much less rigorous approach, where cases are allowed to rise until the hospital system, contact tracing and testing are about to be overwhelmed. They say the risk is worth it because ending lockdowns and scrapping restrictions will help the economy.

Yet national cabinet has made the right call. Authorities need to be mindful of the economic costs of lockdown measures.

But as Victoria’s experience has shown, the spread of this virus can so quickly run out of control. It is also clear that as long as the virus is raging in the community, confidence cannot return and the economy cannot grow.

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