Deputy Premier John Barilaro is standing by his earlier pledge to release Covid-free regional areas from lockdown as quickly as possible, adding that vaccination rates will not be a factor in whether or not the regions are reopened.
Mr Barilaro also confirmed on Wednesday that if the regions do reopen Local Government Area by Local Government Area – as he prefers – there won’t be any additional rules separating the ‘freedoms’ enjoyed by people who are vaccinated versus those who are not.
“Whatever decisions we make for September 10 has nothing to do with vaccination numbers,” he said.
“It’d be unfair to link vaccination numbers to the regions so early in the piece,” he said, adding that some regions have been struggling with being able to access enough vaccines to keep up with demand.
“You cannot have any correlation to vaccination for the regions that could possibly come out of lockdown on the 10th.”
However, the Deputy Premier said that at some point in the future, the ‘Sydney roadmap’ may be applied statewide.
Under the ‘Sydney roadmap’, once the population reaches 70 per cent vaccinated, certain ‘freedoms’ will be permitted for people who have received the vaccine. The approach is being rolled out in Greater Sydney, where vaccinated adults are allowed to gather outdoors within their LGA in groups of up to five people, starting September 13. Vaccinated residents of the LGAs of concern will be able to gather outdoors for recreation for one hour, in addition to the one hour of exercise already in play.
The government has also promised that once the state reaches a 70 per cent vaccination rate, “a range of family, industry, community and economic restrictions to be lifted for those who are vaccinated.”
At 80 per cent full vaccination there will be “further easing of restrictions on industry, community and the economy.”
ServiceNSW is currently working through changes to the Covid check-in app which will include the user’s vaccination status. If businesses are also restricted based on whether or not their staff are vaccinated, Mr Barilaro said those details would also have to be logged with the state.
He stressed that the government’s goal is for the majority of the population to receive a double dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
“We need to make sure our regions get vaccinated, and that’s why I keep saying to the regions and my message has been consistent that we can’t be left behind,” he said.
“For regional communities, the message is to get vaccinated, regardless of the cases, regardless of whether you may be in or out of lockdown in the future.
“We’re going to have to learn to live with Covid. When we lift the restrictions in Sydney, at 70 or 80 per cent, we are lifting the restrictions as a state. The risks then become statewide.”
Mr Barilaro said that as the state and national borders are reopened to travel, the risk of Covid outbreaks will continue to rise.
He added that it is possible that in the future, the government will put restrictions on anyone who is unvaccinated, regardless of the freedoms which may be restored in the regions come September 10.
“Regardless that you may have a freedom today in the regions, it may not mean you’ll have a freedom in the future, and that’s a strong message to everybody,” he said.
“Don’t be reluctant. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be vaccinated at some point, book today with your GP, your pharmacist or jump on the NSW website.”
Mr Barilaro said that the Murrumbidgee Local Health District, which includes the Snowy Valleys LGA, is currently in a good position for being one of the first to be released from lockdown after September 10, pending any cases or new exposure sites being detected in the region.
“Without lowering the benchmark… if i had to make a decision today in that region, with no cases, and I was able to make a regional decision, I’d open up the area,” he said on Wednesday, adding that the reopening may come with some caveats – such as not allowing community sports to resume – but that the question is “on the books”.
A decision is expected to be reached by the state’s crisis cabinet next week.