Gladys Berejiklian’s top two heath advisers have praised her dedication and leadership as they continue the Covid fight without her.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard and chief health officer Kerry Chant have spent 18 months in the trenches with the premier since the state’s first outbreak.
The three foxhole buddies stood shoulder-to-shoulder at daily briefings, especially during the Delta outbreak that sent Sydney into lockdown three months ago.
But on Sunday, Dr Chant and Mr Hazzard faced the media alone after their beloved leader announced on Friday she would resign as NSW premier.
With some prompting by reporters, they paid tribute to their fallen premier – but with two very different send-offs.
Mr Hazzard admitted he was ‘saddened’ by the sudden departure, but Dr Chant maintained it was ‘inappropriate’ to share her feelings.
‘She has been an amazing premier, a person of high integrity and somebody that I would place my trust incompletely,’ Mr Hazzard said.
‘And I think that is what the community of NSW has done as well during these last 20 months. It is awfully sad that it is come to this situation.
‘It’s a very sad situation. I feel so sad that the premier is not going to be the premier after Tuesday.
‘She has done a job which has been unbelievable. I think we are as a community forever grateful to Gladys Berejiklian.’
Mr Hazzard said she would not want her colleagues to mourn for her and instead they should stay focused on finishing what she started.
But at the end of the day, she would be the first person to say that our government must continue to govern for the community, and we all know that,’ he said.
‘We’ve heard that from her so many times but there is not one person in our government who won’t be doing everything absolutely for the community going forward.’
By contrast, Dr Chant said it was ‘not appropriate’ to comment for her to share her feelings, but would address the question in ‘her own way’.
She instead lauded the outgoing premier’s ‘tireless’ work ethic and dedication to her state during the time the pair worked together.
‘The premier has worked tirelessly since the pandemic commenced through this most difficult time and I think her clear commitment to the community is so evident,’ she said.
‘I don’t think it’s really appropriate for me to go into any further issues but just to recognise how hard and how committed the premier has been.’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured) handed in her resignation 10 days away from the end of the state’s three month lockdown
Meanwhile, more than 30 petitions have since been launched by her devoted supporters as they demand the premier be allowed to stay in her position while she is investigated.
One petition titled ‘Don’t let Gladys Go’ was rapidly pushing 45,000 signatures as of 1pm Sunday along with a flood of supportive comments.
‘Gladys Berejiklian is an incredible leader and has made us proud to be Australian in her handling of the Covid disaster and the insanity that has dominated our world for the last approx 20 months,’ petition organiser Gabbi Phillips wrote.
Ms Phillips said she wanted the 51-year-old reinstated in the petition addressed to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
‘She has been an anchor and an inspiration – a true leader. Please reinstate her – it doesn’t make sense not to – she has our vote, our confidence and our loyalty.’
‘She has been the best of the best. Now is not the time.’
Ms Berejiklian’s shocking departure comes as Sydney prepares to reopen up on October 11 – the Monday after 70 per cent of the population have been fully vaccinated- marking an end to a gruelling four-month lockdown.
More than 30 petitions have been launched demanding Gladys remain as Premier while she is investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet is the frontrunner to take over as premier with Planning Minister Rob Stokes and Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres also considered contenders.
The NSW Liberal parliamentary party will meet to choose a new leader on Tuesday.
Ms Berejiklian’s decision to stand down sparked speculation NSW’s Covid map’s roadmap may be in jeopardy once a new premier takes over.
However, Mr Hazzard on Sunday confirmed the state’s Covid roadmap would not be changed by new leadership, but admitted the government was ‘sorting out’ some issues.
‘In the last 24-48 hours I had discussions with a number of senior ministers about a number of health issues,’ he said.
‘We are focused on trying to make sure that our – our government is focused on making sure the community stays safe.
NSW Health Chief officer Dr Kerry Chant said she could not comment on her feelings towards Ms Berejiklian’s resignation, but commended her efforts leading NSW through the pandemic
‘This roadmap is part of that work and commitment and it will be only subject to change if the health advice is such that should be changed.’
After four-and-a-half years in the top job, Ms Berejiklian will resign from NSW parliament as soon as a by-election for her north Sydney seat of Willoughby could be held.
The anti-corruption watchdog says it is investigating whether Ms Berejiklian ‘exercised public functions’ in a position of conflict given her secret five-year relationship with ex-MP Daryl Maguire, revealed at ICAC hearings in late 2020.
A wearied Ms Berejiklian said she had ‘no option’ other than to resign, as she could not temporarily step aside and resume her role after the investigation.
She said her resignation ‘could not happen at a worse time’, as the state prepared to leave Covid-enforced lockdowns in the coming weeks.
‘I cannot predict how long it will take the ICAC to complete this investigation, let alone deliver a report,’ she said.
‘My resignation as premier could not happen at a worse time, but the timing is completely outside of my control as the ICAC has chosen to take this action during the most challenging weeks of the most challenging times in the history of NSW.’
‘Resigning at this time is against every instinct in my being and something which I do not want to do, I love my job, and serving the community, but I have been given no option following the statement issued.
The premier said the people of NSW needed certainty regarding who their leader was during these challenging times.
‘To continue as premier would disrupt the state government during a time when our entire attention should be focused on the challenges confronting NSW,’ she said.
‘I do not want to be a distraction from what should be the focus of the state government during this pandemic, which is the wellbeing of our citizens.’
NSW has recorded 667 locally Covid cases as the state’s vaccination rates continue to rise. Pictured: A person runs along the coastal park at Bondi Beach in Sydney’s eastern suburbs on September 24
Sydney is expected to open up on October 11, the Monday after 70 per cent of the population have been fully vaccinated. Pictured: People picnic in Double Bay on Saturday after Covid restrictions were eased
Mr Hazzard said he believes there is a ‘fairly good chance’ the decision on a new premier will be resolved before Tuesday’s party room meeting, but both Mr Stokes and Mr Perrottet would do a ‘first class job’.
NSW recorded 667 new Covid cases, a huge drop from Saturday and the fewest new infections since August 20, though 10 people lost their lives.
Mr Hazzard said the state is just days away from hitting the 70 per cent vaccination milestone as businesses gear up to resume operations.
‘We will probably reach the 70 per cent double dose vaccinations by probably mid this week. That means the following Monday [October 11] is the date that we have our first removal of the restrictions,’ he said.
‘That is a really big day for all of us who have lived through the agony of this pandemic.’
Mr Hazzard also finally clarified the role police will have in enforcing bans on residents not vaccinated against Covid from entering most businesses.
‘The police role will be if someone has come into for example a retail outlet or a hotel and are not presenting evidence as is required of their vaccination, then of course the business proprietor or person on behalf of the business will call the police,’ he said.
‘I don’t think we as a community would expect, the police to be at every facility or every restaurant or retail shop. That is not what they do.’
Of the 10 deaths, two people were in their 50s, four people in their 60s, two people were in their 70s and two people were in their 80s – bringing the death toll from the current outbreak to 372.
People leave flowers outside the home of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian shortly after she announced her resignation on Friday (pictured)
Flowers and signs are left by members of the public for Gladys Berejiklian outside her Northbridge office on Saturday
Four were not vaccinated, four had received one dose, and two were fully vaccinated but had underlying health conditions.
There are 981 Covid-19 patients in hospital in NSW, with 195 in intensive care units and 93 on ventilators.
As case numbers continue to drop, Mr Hazzard urged fans to act responsibly ahead of the NRL Grand Final that will be held at Brisbane’s Lang Park Stadium on Sunday.
The massive sporting event is expected to draw in tens of thousands of spectators with thousands more to watch the match from their televisions in NSW.
‘All the hard work that we have done, to have gone from 1599 cases just three weeks ago to 667 cases today has taken a lot of hard work. Please don’t ruin that,’ he said.
‘This is a game that we all must win. We have to make sure that this virus does not get a hold and get back in the numbers that it can do very easily if we ignore the rules that our public health team have given us to keep us safe.’
Across NSW, 88.1 per cent of people aged 16 and over have received a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, and 66.5 per cent were fully vaccinated by midnight on Friday.
Dr Chant said there had been a ‘significant increase’ in cases in the Illawarra Shoalhaven health district where 49 cases were reported overnight.
There were 88,210 Covid-19 tests conducted to 8pm on Saturday night, compared with the previous day’s total of 98,266.
‘Please sustain those high rates of testing,’ Dr Chant said on Sunday.
Ms Berejiklian said her resignation could not come at a ‘worse time’ as the state prepares to exit Covid lockdowns in coming weeks. Pictured: workers wearing protective equipment at the Manly Waves Studio and Apartments in Sydney on September 29
Sunday’s infections are a massive drop from the 813 new locally acquired cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday as NSW’s Delta outbreak continues to dwindle.
NSW Health detected virus fragments in sewage at Tweed Kingscliff and Tweed Banora Point in Northern NSW.
People in those areas were encouraged to seek Covid-19 testing with even minor respiratory symptoms.
Dr Chant said there was a significant increase in cases in the Illawarra, Hunter and Central Coast in recent weeks, and called for those with symptoms to come forward for testing.
Casino was placed into lockdown from midnight Friday until October 11, with stay-at-home orders applicable to anyone who has visited the northern NSW town since September 24.
Non-urgent day surgery will recommence in NSW private health facilities on Tuesday as transmission rates continue to fall, but non-urgent procedures at NSW public hospitals will stay postponed.
Ms Berejiklian pictured with former Premier Barry O’Farrell and ex-lover ‘Dodgy Darryl’ Maguire (pictured)
An ICAC public inquiry on the Berejiklian matter will be held for about 10 days from October 18, overseen by Assistant Commissioner Ruth McColl SC.
ICAC said Ms Berejiklian would be investigated over grant funding to the Australian Clay Target Association in 2016/17 and grant funding to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music in Wagga Wagga in 2018.
It plans to look into whether Ms Berejiklian’s relationship with Mr Maguire, then the Wagga Wagga MP, affected those arrangements and constituted a breach of public trust or partial exercise of official functions.
ICAC will also investigate whether Ms Berejiklian should have “suspected on reasonable grounds” that Mr Maguire may have engaged in corrupt conduct, and thus failed to report him to ICAC as required.
It will look into whether she “was liable to allow or encourage” his conduct.
Mr Maguire is accused of abusing his public office between 2012 and 2018.
The former state MP is alleged to have used his public office and parliamentary resources to improperly gain a benefit for himself or for G8way International, a company he allegedly ‘effectively controlled’.
Mr Maguire quit the government in 2018 after a separate ICAC inquiry heard evidence he sought payments to help broker deals for property developers.
Roadmap to freedom: All the changes for fully vaccinated NSW residents after hitting 70% jab target
Gatherings in the home and public spaces
· Up to five visitors will be allowed in a home where all adults are vaccinated (not including children 12 and under).
· Up to 20 people can gather in outdoor settings.
Venues including hospitality, retail stores and gyms
· Hospitality venues can reopen subject to one person per 4sqm inside and one person per 2sqm outside, with standing while drinking permitted outside.
· Retail stores can reopen under the one person per 4sqm rule (unvaccinated people will continue to only be able to access critical retail).
· Personal services such as hairdressers and nail salons can open with one person per 4sqm, capped at five clients per premises.
· Gyms and indoor recreation facilities can open under the one person per 4sqm rule and can offer classes for up to 20 people.
· Sporting facilities including swimming pools can reopen.
Stadiums, theatres and major outdoor recreation facilities
· Major recreation outdoor facilities including stadiums, racecourses, theme parks and zoos can reopen with one person per 4sqm, capped at 5,000 people.
· Up to 500 people can attend ticketed and seated outdoor events.
· Indoor entertainment and information facilities including cinemas, theatres, music halls, museums and galleries can reopen with one person per 4sqm or 75 per cent fixed seated capacity.
Weddings, funerals and places of worship
· Up to 50 guests can attend weddings, with dancing permitted and eating and drinking only while seated.
· Up to 50 guests can attend funerals, with eating and drinking while seated.
· Churches and places of worship to open subject to one person per 4sqm rule, with no singing.
· Domestic travel, including trips to regional NSW, will be permitted.
· Caravan parks and camping grounds can open.
· Carpooling will be permitted.
Non-vaccinated young people aged under 16 will be able to access all outdoor settings but will only be able to visit indoor venues with members of their household.
Employers must continue to allow employees to work from home if the employee is able to do so.
There will be revised guidance on isolation for close and casual contacts who are fully vaccinated, with details to be provided closer to the reopening date.
· Masks will remain mandatory for all indoor public venues, including public transport, front-of-house hospitality, retail and business premises, on planes and at airports.
· Only hospitality staff will be required to wear a mask when outdoors.
· Children aged under 12 will not need to wear a mask indoors.