The horror Delta outbreak which trapped Sydneysiders in their homes for 15 weeks was foreshadowed by the state’s police and health authorities in the weeks leading up to the first case – an airport limo driver.
With New South Wales enjoying relatively good fortunes when it came to Covid before this point, restrictions were minimal – meaning the shock infection which spawned the outbreak spread quickly throughout the community.
The outbreak has claimed the lives of 454 people so far and spawned 64,500 Covid cases across the state.
It all began on June 9, when an infected FedEx crew arrived onboard flight FX77 in Sydney, where they were chauffeured by driver Michael Podgoetsky.
Within days, the unknowingly infected driver had visited several busy shops and eateries across the city’s east, most notably at Westfield Bondi Junction.
From there, it spread like wildfire after a Bondi Junction worker unknowingly took the virus to a birthday party with 40 other people in West Hoxton.
Within seven days, the entire city was in lockdown – one they would not leave for 1056 gruelling days.
But it has now been revealed that NSW Health feared such an outbreak would begin with airport drivers as early as May.
Limo driver Michael Podgoetsky, 63 (pictured), is considered to be the Delta outbreak’s patient zero – unknowingly visiting the busy Westfield Bondi Junction shopping centre while infected
Health officials feared some drivers working in the high-risk role ferrying international flight crew were not adhering to the state’s infection control rules, The Daily Telegraph reported.
They were so concerned that the department approached NSW Police to ensure hotel quarantine chauffeurs were undergoing daily Covid tests and wearing masks.
Then just four days after the crackdown began, driver Mr Podgoetsky, 63, tested positive to the super mutant strain of Covid-19.
Although the origin of his transmission still officially remains unknown, NSW contact tracers are all but certain he picked it up from three FedEx crew members who arrived in Sydney on June 9 at 3.34pm on board flight FX77.
Mr Podgoetsky, from Sydney’s eastern suburbs, was unvaccinated and according to witnesses on the day, not wearing a face mask in the airport pickup zone.
Although face coverings were part of the Covid-safe protocols there were no legal requirements to wear them despite the extreme risk of infection.
He says he always wore a mask while working and denies being patient zero.
NSW Health made the approach to NSW Police to ask for their assistance with Covid compliance for his car company on June 10.
A senior police officer, the next day on June 11, then made it clear to management that drivers would have to be tested for the virus at the start of every shift.
One of Mr Podgoetsky’s swab samples then came back positive on June 15, but by then it was too late.
NSW Health made the approach to NSW Police to ask for their assistance with Covid compliance for drivers on June 10 (pictured, premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant on June 24 arriving at a media conference when the outbreak began)
Mr Podgoetsky (pictured) has always denied he was the ‘index case’ for the devastating Delta outbreak insisting that he wore a face mask at all times while driving and caught the virus from ‘someone at a café’
Days earlier on June 12, he had visited Bondi Junction shopping centre, going to numerous venues and infecting a man through ‘fleeting contact’ in Myer.
One day later on June 13, the limo driver dined at Belle Café in Vaucluse where he is believed to have spread the virus to others.
With cases continuing to spring up, NSW Health put out an urgent health alert for anyone who had visited Westfield Bondi Junction, hoping the virus could be contained to the eastern suburbs.
It was around that time the outbreak was given the ‘Bondi Cluster’ moniker – but it would soon spread far right across the city.
Although the origin of his transmission still officially remains unknown, NSW contact tracers are all but certain he picked it up from three FedEx crew members who arrived in Sydney on June 9 at 3.34pm on board flight FX77
But the following day a worker at a Bondi Junction nail salon travelled out to western Sydney for an ill-fated party in West Hoxton that would turn into a super-spreader event infecting 27 people.
NSW Health didn’t know it at the time, but this was the moment when the Delta variant started to spread out of control.
With cases climbing a defiant Gladys Berejiklian called a two-week lockdown for Greater Sydney, confident the outbreak could be curtailed.
The day before, she had called a snap lockdown for areas of the city and the eastern suburbs.
But the entire Harbour City remained under stay-at-home orders for another 106 consecutive days with the rest of NSW also being plunged into the lockdown as the weeks and months dragged by.
An urgent health alert was issued for Westfield Bondi Junction on June 18 leading to the outbreak being dubbed the ‘Bondi Cluster’
The Double Bay hair and beauty salon of celebrity stylist Joh Bailey is pictured undergoing a deep clean after a Covid outbreak on June 24
The uncontrolled spread in Sydney’s west led to particularly harsh measures including curfews and travel restrictions.
It even spread the virus back into Victoria, with a man who attended the West Hoxton party flying back to Melbourne on June 20 – and taking the virus with him.
Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant admitted on August 10 that many guests who were at the West Hoxton party had been missed by contact tracers, setting off a chain of events which led to various LGAs eventually being declared ‘areas of concern’.
It was a candid admission after originally telling reporters: ‘We got to this group very quickly… they were basically infectious in the community for one day.’
After a long and miserable winter for NSW where Covid case numbers surged to 1,600 infections a day, the transmission rate has now fallen to below 500 and the state’s vaccination rate is expected to soar past 80 per cent on Sunday.
Double-dosed residents were finally released from harsh restrictions on October 11 when the jab rate hit 70 per cent.
Mr Podgoetsky dined at the Belle Café, in Sydney’s Vaucluse (pictured), unknowingly spreading the virus to others on June 13
Greater Sydney was called into lockdown on June 26 and did not emerge until October 11. Pictured: A Covid testing clinic in Bondi Beach, Sydney, on June 23
Mr Podgoetsky has always denied he was the ‘index case’ for the devastating Delta outbreak insisting that he wore a face mask at all times while driving and caught the virus from ‘someone at a café’.
‘I don’t want to be associated with this. I got this stupid disease from somewhere, I don’t know where,’ he said previously.
‘It’s terrible what’s happening to the country… I followed all the rules.
‘I’ve got a drug addict… living (near) me who’s threatening me. It’s terrible what’s happening in the country.’
Police who investigated the limo driver months earlier cleared him of any wrongdoing, but SafeWork NSW has now begun a separate inquiry examining if his company were in breach of the Work Health and Safety Act.