Huge crowds of Sydneysiders that descended on the city’s beaches are unlikely to have spread Covid and should not be punished for exercising, a top expert insists.
Thousands enjoyed unseasonable 25C weather by flocking to Bondi, Coogee, and other beaches in Sydney’s eastern suburbs for their lockdown-permitted daily exercise.
Meanwhile, eight local councils in western Sydney are in a tighter lockdown that bans them from leaving their own neighbourhoods for almost any reason.
Photos published by Daily Mail Australia provoked outrage among many living more than the allowed 10km from a beach or who feared the crowds would worsen the outbreak, which grew by 207 on Monday.
Though most of the crowd was legally exercising, many were flouting restrictions by sunbathing on the sand, congregating to chat, and walking in bigger groups – prompting more justified anger.
However, infectious disease professor Peter Collignon said the risk of outdoor transmission was extremely low and the numbers only posed a risk if they crowded into beachside cafes.
Sydneysiders who flouted stay-at-home orders to spend the weekend at the beach are unlikely to have spread Covid-19, a top epidemiologist has claimed
Infectious diseases physician Peter Collignon revealed that the risk of outdoor transmission was extremely low despite large crowds descending on Coogee and Bondi on Sunday
Professor Collignon said the likelihood of transmitting the virus outdoors was 20 to 30 times lower than indoors
‘You’re hard-pressed to find evidence for much outside transmission,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘Essentially, if you are outdoors and particularly if you keep your distance of two metres, you’re very unlikely to get the virus. If you’re outdoors and you’re closer than that [for significant periods], then where a mask.’
Professor Collignon, a senior academic at that Australian National University, said the likelihood of transmitting the virus outdoors was 20 to 30 times lower than indoors.
‘If you’re going to get it outdoors, you have to be close to somebody who has the infection,’ he said.
Despite the low risk of transmission, cops were out in full force patrolling the beaches and checking identifications while a police helicopter hovered overhead.
Professor Collingon said it was important to avoid demonising residents who went outside for exercise, as permitted up to 10km away from their homes in groups of two.
‘I think we shouldn’t discourage people from going outdoors,’ he said. ‘It is safer to spend time with your family outdoors than it is indoors.
‘Secondly, there’s an emotional and psychological cost of staying inside for so long.’
‘Providing people have kept two metres apart, then there will be minimal impact to the spread of the virus.’
Photos appeared to show residents crowded together on the footpaths and beaches, which could raise the risk if they walked shoulder-to-shoulder for more than a matter of seconds.
However, Professor Collignon said the angle of the camera often played tricks on perception and made people seem much closer than they appeared.
‘The trouble with telephoto lenses is that they make people look closer than they are. It would be better to get a photo from a drone up above,’ he said.
Professor Collignon said the angle of the camera often played tricks on perception and made people seem much closer than they appeared
Despite the low risk of transmission police officers were spotted out in full force patrolling the beaches and checking identifications while a chopper hovered overhead
Beach police patrols individually checked IDs and the addresses of sunbathers and swimmers on the ground.
University of Sydney’s School of Public Health epidemiologist Fiona Stanaway said she could understand that the photos would have upset western Sydney residents.
The eight western councils are enduring a hard lockdown with residents prohibited from leaving their regions and army troops deployed to monitor restriction compliance.
‘Imagine the people living in the western suburbs, where they have higher restrictions with the police and army there, and they see footage of Bondi on TV,’ professor Stanaway said.
She agreed the risk of outdoor transmission was low, but said large crowds should still be avoided.
‘If there’s a lot of people, it makes physical distancing harder because space is often limited,’ she said.
‘When you’re outside, you might bump into someone and have a chat, not aware about how close you are standing to people.’
St Vincent’s Hospital infectious diseases physician professor Greg Dore argued the stay-at-home orders went too far considering there have been no cases of outdoor transmission.
He also took issue with the outdoor mask mandate across the western suburbs, saying there was little evidence showing the benefits.
‘I would prefer a whole of Sydney mask mandate, although I believe that is also unnecessary,’ he told Sydney Morning Herald.
Professor Collignon said masks increased protection by about 20 per cent.
University of Sydney’s School of Public Health epidemiologist Fiona Stanaway said she could understand that the photos would have upset western Sydney residents (pictured, defence force personnel at Fairfield in south-west Sydney)
‘Imagine the people living in the western suburbs, where they have higher restrictions with the police and army there, and they see footage on TV of Bondi,’ professor Stanaway said
While professor Stanaway agreed that the risk of outdoor transmission was low, she said large crowds should still be avoided
NSW Police told Daily Mail Australia it deployed 22 crews at beachsides in the eastern suburbs, from La Perouse in the south to Camp Cove at Watson’s Bay, including Bondi, Coogee, Bronte, and Maroubra.
They issued 29 personal fines on Sunday, and warned 35 others, with another 44 businesses also inspected in the area.
‘Nearly 1,000 people were spoken to, ensuring they were complying with the LGA requirement,’ police said.
‘Officers were also enforcing QR codes at large retailers at Maroubra, Bondi and Eastgardens.’
Ms Berejiklian has for weeks been begging Sydneysiders to only leave their home for essentials like exercise, shopping, vital work or getting vaccinated.
‘Assume that you have the virus, or that people you come into contact with have the virus,’ she has repeatedly told the state.
‘We can’t afford to have people who have the virus going about their business.’
Streets around the world famous beaches of Coogee (pictured) and Bondi were packed with locals making the most of the wintry sun which saw temperatures ride above 25C
Hundreds ignored pleas from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to stay at home and instead packed the streets of Coogee (pictured) and Bondi
Gladys Berejiklian has been begging Sydneysiders to only leave their home for essentials like exercise, shopping, vital work or getting vaccinated. Seen here is a take-away restaurant in Coogee on Sunday
But those words appeared lost on locals and visitors to the sun-soaked suburbs who turned out in big numbers to enjoy the unseasonably warm winter weather.
The scenes played out as the another 239 Covid cases were confirmed in Sydney, including nine in one inner west aged care facility in Summer Hill. There were another 207 recorded on Monday.
The premier renewed calls for Sydneysiders to get vaccinated amid the worrying case numbers.
‘Today is August 1 and I am calling upon the people of greater Sydney, and New South Wales, to come forward and get vaccinated,’ she said.
‘To get to the 70 per cent target we need 9.2 million jabs. To get the 80 per cent target we need 10 million jabs. We have been talking about this in NSW for some time.’
The premier’s pleas appeared lost on locals and visitors to the sun-soaked suburbs who turned out in numbers to make the most of the unseasonably warm winter weather. Pictured here is Bondi Beach on Sunday
For weeks, Gladys Berejiklian has been begging Sydneysiders to only leave their home for essentials like exercise, shopping, vital work or getting vaccinated. Seen here is the scene at the north end of Bondi Beach on Sunday
The premier renewed calls on Sunday for Sydneysiders to get vaccinated amid the worrying case numbers. Seen here are two young women exercising at Bondi Beach on Sunday
The figures announced on Sunday marked the second time the state reported a record 239 cases – after first recording the number on Thursday. Cases then dipped to 170 on Friday before jumping back to 210 on Saturday.
A large proportion of those seen in the beachside suburbs on Sunday were in the under 30s age group.
NSW deputy chief health officer Dr Jeremy McAnulty warned younger Sydneysiders aged between 18 and 30 were the biggest spreaders of the virus.
‘We are seeing cases at high rates in those age group,’ he said on Sunday.
‘This is the age group that tends to be a link between kids, younger people, and older, elderly relatives.
‘They are working, they have big social networks, if you are in that age group it is important that you be aware that you are very vulnerable to the infection, as we have seen in ICU numbers you can get serious disease.
‘It is important you come forward for vaccination.’
Health authorities also raised concerns about the lack of people coming forward for testing.
NSW deputy chief health officer Dr Jeremy McAnulty warned younger Sydneysiders aged between 18 and 30 were the biggest spreaders of the virus. A mix of ages are seen here walking at Bondi Beach on Sunday
A large proportion of those seen in the beachside suburbs on Sunday were in younger under 30s age group, as seen here in Bondi Beach on Sunday
Photos this weekend emerged of a Bondi Covid test centre sitting empty while a Fairfield clinic was packed with residents.
A local resident who went to get tested at 3.30pm told Daily Mail Australia the empty clinic was concerning.
‘If no-one is getting tested in the eastern suburbs, that could mean lots of cases are going undetected,’ he said.
The exposure list has also grown with three busy buses, a train line fruit markets, pizza shops, bakeries, a Target store and a cheesecake shop among the new venues.
Among the new exposure sites is the 400 bus running between Bondi Junction and Clovelly, and a Woolworths in Double Bay.
Bondi is part of the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District, where there have been 301 positive cases in the four weeks to July 30.
That test rate in that LHD – 270 per 1,000 – lags behind South Western Sydney LHD on 450, Sydney LHD on 312 and Western Sydney LHD on 281.
Waverley LGA initially led the city in testing after the current outbreak began in the area on June 16, but rates have fallen off as the focus of the disease spread to the south-west over the past month.
South Eastern Sydney Local Health District – which included Bondi and Coogee – has had 301 positive cases in the four weeks to July 30. A couple are pictured here exercising at Coogee Beach on Sunday
The premier renewed calls on Sunday for Sydneysiders to get vaccinated amid the worrying case numbers. Seen here is the popular sea pool at the north end of Coogee Beach on Sunday