Reopening call this week

After repeated reports of Covid being detected in Cooma’s sewage, a positive case of the virus has now been identified.

The case was announced Monday morning and is the first Covid case in south east NSW linked to the Delta outbreak. 

Bega MP Andrew Constance said it is a “very clear signal to us all to be incredibly vigilant in relation to our own health,” saying that it could jeopardise the region’s ability to leave lockdown at the end of this week.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the case is currently under investigation, with information to be released to the public “as soon as we can.”

Contact tracing for the Cooma case is underway. The past week has also reported multiple detections of Covid in sewage fragments in Cooma, Jindabyne, Thredbo, Bega and Merimbula.

A truck driver in Wodonga has also been diagnosed with Covid and is currently in isolation. 

Mr Barilaro said all the data will be reviewed as part of the state’s decision on ending the lockdown this week, promising to “put up a… fight” to see the regions released.

Meantime, the Murrumbidgee Local Health District announced on Friday that a suspected positive case of Covid was being investigated in Wagga. By Saturday, the health district was able to confirm that the suspected case was “a false positive.”

“The person does not have Covid-19 and they, and their close contacts, are no longer required to self-isolate,” said a MLHD spokesperson.

“The information about the suspected positive result was provided [Friday] while the case was still under investigation to address rumours circulating in the community.”

The case was linked to an essential worker who had undergone routine screening for the virus in the course of their duties and returned “an inconclusive result.” They were asymptomatic and immediately went into isolation in accommodation in Wagga, along with their close contacts, who also underwent further testing.

An announcement about releasing the regions from lockdown is expected later this week, with the current statewide lockdown due to end at midnight on Friday, September 10. 

“There are big parts of regional NSW that don’t have a case and haven’t ever had a case. You can’t keep suppressing something that doesn’t exist and hurting people the way these lockdowns do,” said Mr Barilaro, pointing to Wednesday’s meeting of the state crisis cabinet for a decision on releasing the regions.

The state is also waiting for the government’s roadmap which will outline how all of NSW will be eased out of the current lockdown. 

Mr Barilaro last week described lockdowns as needing to be “something of the past” as the state and the nation learn to ‘live with Covid’.

The Deputy Premier has long voiced his preference for releasing the regions earlier than Greater Sydney, releasing regions based on local metrics such as the number of active cases, number of exposure sites and proximity to areas with active cases.

“Nobody knows if Covid will ever leave us,” he said on Friday, confirming that future booster shots will be needed to ensure that Covid vaccinations remain effective.

“Booster shots are all part of this and the reality for us is: get used to it,” he said.

“Covid is going to be like the flu shot. Many of us will be getting our booster shots consistently.”

Mr Barilaro also suggested that once the vast majority of the population has received a vaccination, all services will be reopened to all people, regardless of their vaccination or unvaccinated status.

“It is about opening up everything for everybody,” he said, “including the unvaccinated.”

On Monday, he suggested that some travel may be reopened for those who are vaccinated, with tourism-related businesses also required to show proof their staff are vaccinated. 

He said those freedoms will initially be available only to the vaccinated, but by the time the state reaches “80 or 85 per cent” vaccinated, those freedoms could be reopened to all NSW residents.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the government will also be announcing additional support for businesses as the lockdowns are eased.

An economic recovery program will be released in early October by the state government.

“As we ease restrictions, this will provide support alongside that,” he said.

Countless businesses across the state have been complaining that the government’s support packages have been too small, too slow to be released and too specific.

“It’s not a one sized fits all situation here,” acknowledged Mr Perrottet, saying the government’s goal is to see every business make it through the lockdown.

“I’m very confident that our businesses will pull through this,” he said.

“Last year, we recovered every single job we lost.”

He said the budget may take a hit on the way through, but the government would prioritise protecting businesses and tailor their programs to where they will have the best impact.