Sydney’s health system is buckling under the pressure of the city’s spiralling Covid outbreak, with surgery suspended at several hospitals and the army drafted in to enforce lockdown.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton confirmed on Thursday night that 300 personnel would be deployed to help NSW Police enforce the strict restrictions on millions across Sydney.
They will be deployed across Sydney from Monday.
It comes after NSW recorded its worst-ever Covid case numbers on Thursday, with a whopping 239 cases as the state’s health system struggles to contain the Indian Delta strain.
Newly released figures also showed the state’s contact tracing system was being overwhelmed by case numbers, with a soaring number of mystery cases going unsolved for weeks, and a slippage in the time taken to notify positive test results and to interview new cases about their movements.
Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred, St Vincent’s and Liverpool hospitals have all had to pause non-urgent surgery during lockdown, as Health Minister Brad Hazzard conceded the hospital system was under ‘significant stress.’
St Vincent’s Hospital, on the outskirts of Sydney’s CBD, is one of three hospitals to pause non urgent surgery due to the coronavirus
As Covid test numbers increase, Sydney has been ‘drowning’ due to the demand, with testing from NSW now being completed interstate
So many exposure sites have popped up across the city that many workers are in isolation, meaning staff numbers aren’t adequate to run non-urgent procedures.
A spokesperson for Sydney Local Health District said while non-urgent surgeries were temporarily paused at RPA Hospital, ‘arrangements are in place with private hospitals to assist us with non-urgent elective surgical load if necessary’.
St Vincent’s, located at Darlinghurst just out of the CBD, told the Sydney Morning Herald they were ‘looking to meet the needs of their patients’ before adding ‘if things do become worse, we won’t be able to maintain the load we are doing.’
The situation is even more dire at Liverpool, with the hospital in an identified Covid hot-spot in southwest Sydney.
They have only conducted emergency surgery for the past fortnight, with other surgeries moved to nearby Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital.
With daily tests in NSW currently hovering around the 100,000 mark, thousands of Covid nasal test swabs are now being put on planes and flown interstate for testing.
Certain test labs in Sydney are simply unable to cope with the high demand, with people in some cases waiting up to 10 days for their results.
Laverty Pathology, who run the drive-through Covid testing clinics in Sydney, have admitted some resulted have taken up to 72 hours – which has resulted in assistance from experts in other states.
The state’s once-vaunted contact tracing system was also struggling to cope.
Figures show a burgeoning backlog of mystery infections yet to be linked to a source – some of them a month old – and a growing number of infected people waiting longer to be told of positive tests and to being interviewed about their movements.
NSW Health figures reported in The Australian showed there are 779 infections – almost a third of active cases – whose source is unkown.
Of those, 119 are positive cases that were recorded in the first two weeks of July, more than a fortnight ago, but were still not linked to other cases.
The percentage of people notified of a positive test result within a day had dropped from 90 per cent to 84 per cent in a week, and the percentage of notified who were interviewed within 24 hours had slipped alarmingly from 85 per cent a week ago to just 67 per cent this week.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller also confirmed he has made a formal request to the federal government for Australian Defence Force assistance with the ongoing Covid-19 compliance operation.
The NSW Police Force will significantly expand its enforcement activities in Sydney over the coming days and has requested 300 ADF personnel to boost its operational footprint.
Commissioner Fuller said the NSW Police Force and the ADF has forged a close relationship through the pandemic.
The Australian Defence Force has also been called in to assist with ongoing Covid-19 compliance operation across NSW
Covid testing numbers in NSW are so high during lockdown that samples have been flown interstate as Sydney is ‘drowning’ due to demand
‘The assistance of the ADF has been essential over the past 18 months – particularly during last year’s border operation, the ongoing hotel quarantine operation and the assistance provided with logistics support in the Police Operations Centre,’ he said.
‘With an increase in enforcement activity over the coming week, I have now made a formal request to the Prime Minister for ADF personnel to assist with that operation.
‘I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his ongoing support.’
Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott welcomed the request for assistance.
‘There is a longstanding and highly-professional relationship between the NSW Police Force and the ADF,’ Mr Elliott said.
‘As I have said previously, support from the Army will add another line of defence to the NSW Government’s crackdown on Covid-19 compliance.
‘The Army’s unique skills and training have combined many times with those of our police officers to serve the people of NSW in times of crisis, such as the floods and severe bushfires we’ve experienced in recent years.
‘This will be a functional, effective and dynamic team to fight this pandemic.’
Following Thursday’s confirmation of the huge case numbers, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also announced two million Sydney residents living in one of eight hotspot LGAs in the west and south-western suburbs would have to wear a mask whenever they leave home.
Those areas are Canterbury-Bankstown, Fairfield, Liverpool, Blacktown, Cumberland, Parramatta, Campbelltown and Georges River.
From midnight on Saturday morning, residents in those LGAs cannot travel more than 5km from their home for essential shopping or for exercise.
HOW SYDNEY’S TOUGHER LOCKDOWN RULES WILL AFFECT YOU
In the eight hotspot LGAs from 12am on Saturday, July 31 (Blacktown, Campbelltown, Canterbury-Bankstown, Cumberland, Fairfield, Georges River, Liverpool and Parramatta):
Residents must wear a mask whenever leaving the home, including when they are outdoors.
The travel limit for essential exercise and shopping has been reduced to 5km from 10km.
Those in a ‘singles bubble’ with another person must follow the same travel restriction.
The penalty for breaking mask restrictions will increase from $200 to $500
Police will be given the power to shut down public premises, worksites, and businesses that are caught breaching public health orders.