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QandA expert claims that hotel quarantine is responsible for Sydney covid outbreak

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An expert said Australia is left with just “one weapon” against covid as questions are asked about how Sydney’s patient zero was able to work.

An expert has blamed the federal government’s hotel quarantine program on the series of outbreaks and lockdowns state premiers have had to grapple with over the past 18 months.

It comes as NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was today questioned over how the limousine driver who started Sydney’s outbreak was able to work with international flight staff while unvaccinated and not wearing a mask.

Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness chair Jane Halton told ABC’s 7.30 it was “disappointing” the driver had been so exposed when transporting crew.

“We’ve known of the risk from people who are transporting airline staff since the very beginning of this whole pandemic,” she said.

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“Indeed, it is something that has been discussed in the past.

“Now we all understand that mistakes are made, but these sorts of things should be part of the systems and processes we have to make sure we prevent wherever possible this kind of spread.”

Sydney’s covid outbreak was also front and centre during this week’s episode of QandA, with an audience made up of just a smattering of guests wearing masks and social distancing in effect.

UNSW and Strategic Health Policy Adviser, Adjunct Professor Bill Bowtell said the outbreaks and subsequent lockdowns over the last few months were the result of “a very serious failure of quarantine arrangement” and low vaccination rates.

“We brought this on ourselves by the decisions that have been taken, that have not really kept up with the emergence of the covid Delta variant which is much more infectious,” he said.

“We only have one weapon in our armoury unfortunately now that works and that‘s as (covid expert) Mary-Louise McLaws said, a short sharp lockdown,” he said.

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Why Sydney ‘missed the boat’ on stopping outbreak

Epidemiologist and adviser to the World Health Organisation Professor Mary-Louise McLaws also appeared on QandA to discuss the Sydney outbreak.

A staunch supporter of Sydney going into lockdown, she opted to appear via video link to “practise what I preach” and told the audience the outbreak could have largely been prevented.

“(Sydney), they‘ve had a very slow increase in numbers and a very high peak which is quite unusual for this variant of concern,” Prof McLaws said.

“But I still think that they should have gone into a sharp lockdown to stop people from particularly wandering over the weekend.”

Prof McLaws said Sydney had now “missed the boat” in preventing the outbreak from spreading further.

“We’ve had several cases that are potentially causing more harm down in Melbourne, we have the hairdresser that has been a missed or mystery link as they call it, then we’ve had the woman that went to New Zealand,” she said.

“So we’re going to see more cases. They may not be enormous in number, but that’s beside the point.

“This is a variant of concern that has a reputation for causing more hospitalisation and of course more children because of the large numbers of people they can infect.”

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Limo driver case ‘not as simple as issuing a ticket’

NSW Health confirmed 18 new locally acquired cases in the 24 hours to 8pm Wednesday night, 13 of which were already announced on Wednesday.

There were also six cases recorded outside of the official reporting period, meaning they will be included in Friday’s numbers. There are now 48 infections linked to Sydney’s outbreak.

Authorities are now investigating the limousine driver who sparked the Sydney lockdown, with NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys saying it was “not as simple as issuing a ticket to this gentleman”.

“As we think more about the offences that may have been committed, it‘s not just about a breach of that transport order,” he said.

“We’re thinking now around how we look at this, these actions of transport drivers and indeed this particular driver around transport offences, work health and safety offences, not just the driver but the organisation that employs the driver.”

Ms Berejiklian also told reporters she was “upset and frustrated” by the “really disappointing” situation.

“Everybody in New South Wales who works in our systems know their obligations, and we certainly look forward to providing certainty around what occurred in this situation, I am as upset and frustrated as anybody, we all worked so hard and it is really disappointing when things don‘t go the way they should,” she said.

“I live and breathe it every day and I feel it intensely everyday. We also rely on tens of thousands of outstanding people every day to do jobs that we would not do, to be in contact with people with the virus, so I want to continue to think, from the bottom of my heart, all those people who put themselves on the line every day.

“But I also want to say to those people in and around the system who think complacency is OK, it’s not OK.”

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