Plea to Gladys Berejiklian: Please shut down Melbourne’s flight infection highway
Plea to Gladys Berejiklian: Please shut down Melbourne’s flight infection highway

What Gladys must do to save NSW

OPINION

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian should stop flights from Melbourne into NSW today or impose the same strict quarantine rules on passengers from the Victorian capital as on those from overseas.

Warnings were issued overnight that NSW is "on a precipice" and could tumble into Victoria's coronavirus disaster and that our supposedly closed border is really just "a very leaky sieve".

Passengers flying in from what is, after all, Australia's COVID-19 outbreak epicentre, are being allowed to jump in a taxi or an Uber and make their own merry way into self-isolation.

This is when Victoria, per head of population, has roughly 10 times the outbreak in the whole of England, from where passengers flying into Australia must quarantine under guard in a hotel.

Travellers from Victoria are being allowed potentially to infect drivers, who are working out of the airport because they need to make a dollar in the downturn, or leave droplets containing COVID-19 on surfaces ready to infect the next hapless passenger.

Drivers are doing their best to keep passengers safe by cleaning in between fares.

But given the recorded cases of rideshare or Uber drivers getting infected by Ruby Princess passengers back in April, it's astonishing that Ms Berejiklian is risking a second debacle.

Yes, Ms Berejiklian. That's what it would be.

Your early debacle of the Ruby Princess berthing and discharging coronavirus-infected passengers into the community has been surpassed, and a little forgotten, in the trainwreck that is Victoria.

But Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' shaky political future could be transmitted to your door, droplet by infected droplet, should case numbers in NSW begin to surge.

Alarm is growing at the freedom passengers returning from virus-infected Victoria have after arriving. Picture: Dylan Coker/NCA NewsWire
Alarm is growing at the freedom passengers returning from virus-infected Victoria have after arriving. Picture: Dylan Coker/NCA NewsWire

It's only 27 days since you "closed" the NSW-Victoria border … probably, about two weeks too late.

Word was that Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet dissuaded you from closing the border earlier, citing concerns about thwarting NSW's economy reopening.

The result of that delay is our current coronavirus cases.

Imported up the Hume Highway, to The Crossroads Hotel, then the Thai Rock at Wetherill Park, on to Potts Point … leapfrogging across your state.

And now via a Wagga Wagga family on a flight back from Melbourne.


At this rate, the whole of NSW will have to be deep cleaned and the citizens of the state we know you love, Ms Berejiklian, will be, as Victorians are, MAD at their Premier.

With the benefit of hindsight you, yourself might think you were mad not to fix the leaking sieve right now.

It was City of Sydney councillor and former Australia Medical Association president Kerryn Phelps who called your border closure leaky.

There might be around 600 police officers actually on the dotted line stopping cars and border hoppers from getting in.

But that's just like stopping the boats of illegal immigrants from sailing into Australian waters, but still letting them fly in and overstay.

"I'm concerned that there are still planes coming in from Melbourne to Sydney without any checking, and people just being asked to self-isolate in Sydney when they arrive," Dr Phelps told the ABC's Q&A last night.

"We don't know how many people are actually doing (that)."

An infectious woman who flew from Melbourne to Sydney on Jetstar on July 25 only tested positive days later. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/NewsWire
An infectious woman who flew from Melbourne to Sydney on Jetstar on July 25 only tested positive days later. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/NewsWire

NSW Health allows travellers from the Melbourne epicentre to fly in, get a temperature check - which detects approximately 20 per of cases - and then travel and self-isolate.

We know from previous experience that people don't necessarily do what they are told too.

Some of them, like Queensland's two gangs of three - three young women and now three men - actually lie about having travelled to Victoria, and then go forth and infect others.

One of the young woman dined at a Korean restaurant in Brisbane's Sunnybank Hills, infecting a man and his wife, who works as an aged care worker.

That potential calamity is not a blunder by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has really closed Queensland's borders and having to deal with rule breakers.

While no planes are flying into Brisbane from Melbourne today, three are from Melbourne to Sydney, one apiece from Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin.

The people who are coming into NSW - potentially to each start a coronavirus cluster - are not rule breakers.

They are following the rules set down by your Health Department, Premier.

But that makes them no less a liability, and once in they're in and off, might not they be tempted to go down to the pub or add another restaurant to your burgeoning hotspot list?

"When we know that there are thousands of active cases in Victoria, there could be up to 10 times as many people who are infected who don't know it," Dr Phelps said on Monday night.

"And yet we're just letting people get on planes without having a test.

"It's obvious that NSW is on a precipice, and unless we take this seriously, and unless we actually have an effective closed border, we are going to see leakage of these cases from Victoria over to NSW."

On Radio 2GB on Tuesday, broadcaster Ben Fordham described it as "playing Russian roulette" with people's lives.

NSW Health workers screen passengers at Sydney airport where an infected woman flew in from Melbourne on July 25. Picture: NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi
NSW Health workers screen passengers at Sydney airport where an infected woman flew in from Melbourne on July 25. Picture: NewsWire/Bianca De Marchi

He made a telling comparison, between the English city of Manchester, which like Melbourne is enduring a COVID-19 breakout.

Across the whole of England, daily new cases over the last 24 hours were, with Manchester's spike, 836.

What were Victoria's on its deadliest day last week? It was 723 new cases and 13 deaths and currently the state has 6489 active cases.

Victoria has a population of 6.6 million, compared with England's, of 55.98 million.

And yet a person from any part of England must quarantine under supervision in a hotel, ferried there in a special bus, when they arrive in Sydney.

Do the maths, Premier.

A person flying in from Victoria can jump in a taxi and then it's up to them whether to stick to self-isolation despite the fact they, in very rough statistics, are 10 times more likely to be infected.

If you're still being led around by your economy-minded deputy and Treasurer, Ms Berejiklian, you don't need to be reminded of how Victoria's strict second wave lockdown is smashing its economy.

But instead, think of this.

Passengers wearing face masks disembark a flight last week at Sydney Airport, where passengers from Melbourne aren’t tested on arrival. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/NewsWire
Passengers wearing face masks disembark a flight last week at Sydney Airport, where passengers from Melbourne aren’t tested on arrival. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/NewsWire

Taxi and Uber drivers are still working out of Sydney Airport, picking up customers and trying to make a dollar in the general downturn of custom from the airport with fewer flights.

Premier's Customer Experience Executive Chris Lee told news.com.au drivers were still keen to service airport customers and most wore masks.

Masks aren't mandatory, because while Ms Berejiklian has urged, she has not mandated what would help protect people who cannot socially distance in their jobs.

"While masks aren't mandatory, we have encouraged drivers to wear masks and ask passengers to wear masks if possible," Mr Lee said.

"Although they cannot refuse a fare if the passenger doesn't wear a mask."

Mr Lee said drivers were "probably still a little bit worried. It's a confined space and they are taking people from Melbourne.

"It is getting desperate out there for our drivers in terms of customers and business in general.

"We will be happy when all these other smaller cases in Sydney subside a bit."

Yes, stopping flights from Melbourne or introducing strict quarantine for passengers would reduce fares even further for taxi drivers.

But if you did for, say, the next six weeks of Victoria's strict lockdown, the pain would be in the shorter term.

Maybe you could hire the taxi drivers to ferry single fares in more capacious minibuses, solving the issue of getting people to their homes all over Sydney.

Or introduce the UK's new 90-minute rapid result COVID-19 test at the airport, and corral them until they test negative.

The ones that don't you can throw into hotel quarantine.

Whatever it takes to prevent your beloved state falling off that precipice.

You're the Premier and I can promise you, the alternative will be much harder.

candace.sutton@news.com.au

Originally published as What Gladys must do to save NSW

Passengers off a Melbourne fight are temperature tested at Sydney airport, which detects only about 20 per cent of coronavirus cases. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/NCA NewsWire
Passengers off a Melbourne fight are temperature tested at Sydney airport, which detects only about 20 per cent of coronavirus cases. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/NCA NewsWire
A crew arrive at St Brigid’s Parish in Marrickville after it was closed on Monday for a deep clean. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty
A crew arrive at St Brigid’s Parish in Marrickville after it was closed on Monday for a deep clean. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty

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