Gladys plagued by ‘questions of consistency’

A controversial virus measure comes to an end in Sydney today – but questions about the double standards at play across the city are rising.

Burwood, 12 kilometres west of Sydney Town Hall, is averaging around five Covid-19 cases per day.

More than 20 other local government areas (LGAs) have more daily cases than Burwood; prisons in New South Wales have more infections every day than Burwood.

Yet Burwood remains one of the 12 “LGAs of concern” where restriction are at their strictest.

If you were to travel the 12 kilometres from Burwood to Sydney Town Hall you would find yourself at the grand, towering home of the City of Sydney council. It is not an LGA of concern yet has a seven day average of 62 cases – more than ten times the numbers of Burwood and the sixth highest in the entire state.

Indeed six of the 12 LGAs of concern are currently recording less cases per day than the CBD’s LGA of apparently little concern.

And it’s becoming a problem for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian who is finding it harder to justify why rules are tougher in some areas with little Covid in circulation than those where cases have picked up.

Today, the Premier threw a bone to the 12 LGAs ditching the controversial curfew which only covered these councils.

She said it was a “token of appreciation” for the 2.5 million residents in the NSW capital’s west and southwest.

“Pleasingly, after receiving advice from both police and health, given we’ve hit the 80 per cent [first vaccination dose] milestone across the state, we’re able to lift the curfew in those areas of concern from tonight,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

“Compliance is improving in many areas where perhaps previously it was not, plus the health advice about mental health challenges and the risks of not providing people a little bit of relief, all of that was balanced up and has been balanced up over some time”.

What the Premier didn’t announce — despite repeated pleas from the mayors and residents in those 12 LGA — was when the other restrictions in place there would be relaxed in line with the rest of Greater Sydney. And so, the city’s great lockdown divide continues.

Rules that make it harder to leave the LGAs to work; rules that mean you can only exercise with your household and requirements for some workers to get tested regardless of symptoms. All things that don’t apply in other LGAs.

‘No logical reason’

Talking to Parramatta MP Geoff Lee, whose local LGA is also one of concern but where cases are falling, said it was unfair to lump all the suburbs together.

There’s no logical reason why they should be treated the same as those suburbs in high covid areas,” he said.

“Areas in the north and east (of Parramatta LGA) have a low incidence. People are quite rightly saying, and I agree with them, why are we still in lockdown?”

The mayors of the 12 LGAs have met with the Premier. But their pleas are, at the moment at least, falling on deaf ears.

“I want to send this strong message,” said Mr Berejiklian on Wednesday.

“We can’t move on anything else just now. We need everybody to hold the line. Please make sure that, if you live in those local government areas of concern, that you stick to every other rule that’s in place.

“We’ve seen a stabilisation in the last few days and we don’t want to see that trend go the wrong way. We still have work to do.”

Chief health officer Kerry Chant also confirmed that there had been some “stabilisation” and “downturn” in “the overall pattern of disease” across those communities.

But, “we need to continue to adhere to the public health orders”, Dr Chant said, echoing the Premier’s words.

“We need to stay with it. We have to make sure that we drive home the declines we’re seeing so that we get to the lowest hospital level of transmission of Covid,” she added.

“I urge you to be one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the state. Yes, you’ve achieved 80 per cent in some of your local government areas. Yes, you’ve achieved 90 per cent in some. I’m challenging you to push even further.”

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns urged Ms Berejiklian to “ease some restrictions on the people that have done the right thing, listened to their own government’s advice and got vaccinated at unprecedented rates”.

“Restrictions need to be eased for all of us at the same time,” he told Sky News Australia, pointing specifically to Burwood which has low cases but harsh restrictions, while “across the road” in the City of Sydney and Inner West Council, infection rates were higher (and vaccine rates lower).

“So it doesn’t make sense to millions of people and it feels arbitrary for those that are living under that regime.”

“Yesterday we had 300 cases in the Sydney region. Every LGA is of concern,” Fairfield Mayor Frank Carbone — one of the 12 mayors to chat with the Premier — told the Today show.

“We need to make sure we break down this divide, we unite people and we start working together.

“Sure, we have cases out here in western Sydney. But when people here in western Sydney see people being treated differently, they are lying on a beach (in Bondi) while we can’t even go outdoors for exercise without a mask on. People have a right to be frustrated.”

Mr Carbone said that “something needs to be changed”.

“This divide needs to be taken down. This wall needs to be taken down. We need to be united against this. There are too many different rules in different suburbs,” he added.

“We have helicopters and police on horseback, while only a few kilometres away, where they have 300 cases a day, they do not.

“If it’s safe to lay on a beach with thousands of people, it’s safe enough for people in western Sydney to take a stroll outside, without having to wear a mask.”

If, as the PM, state leaders and health experts have insisted, “vaccination is the path to freedom, in Fairfield we have 80 per cent of first dose rates, they are higher than Sydney”, the mayor said.

“Why shouldn’t people have the right to freedom? We need to talk about a way forward,” he said.

“I can assure you in western Sydney we breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide the same way that they do it in the eastern suburbs.

“Lockdowns have their places. They keep us locked down for the short-term. But they aren’t sustainable.”

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