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New Years Eve COVID-19 cluster concerns

Fireworks over the Sydney Harbour. Photo: Pixabay

By ALLISON HORE

With New Years Eve just around the corner and a new COVID-19 cluster rapidly growing in Sydney’s Northern beaches, councils around Sydney have raised concern about gatherings of revellers.

In September, the City of Sydney handed the reins of the annual New Years’ Eve event on the Sydney harbour over to the NSW Government. Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, said it would be impossible for the council to manage the event under the public health orders. 

To maintain social distancing in the city the government will be restricting access to most parts of the CBD. Only residents who live inside these restricted zones, and those with confirmed bookings at venues, will be allowed into the area. Popular harbourside vantage points in the city will be closed to the public, with only those with tickets allowed to enter. 

But these restrictions, and police enforcement, do not extend beyond the CBD meaning revellers could flock to fireworks vantage points in the Inner West and Eastern Suburbs.

Following news of the growing northern beaches COVID-19 cluster, Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne made a fresh call to the NSW Government to provide COVID-safe plans for all parks on the Sydney Harbour foreshore, not just those in the CBD and North Sydney.

“The outbreak on northern beaches demonstrates just how quickly a COVID-19 outbreak could take off on NYE as crowds flock to the harbour,” he said.

Mr. Byrne said 30,000 or 40,000 people crowding into small harbourside parks in the Inner West, with no limit on numbers and no contact tracing capacity, could be “a recipe for disaster”.

“Every year tens of thousands of Sydneysiders descend on Balmain and Birchgrove for the fireworks display,” he said.

“The Government has now incentivised everyone in Sydney who wants to see the fireworks to flood into our local parks, with no restrictions or directions, creating a large-scale public health risk.”

Mayor Byrne said that the NSW Government needs to consider the impact the CBD restrictions will have on surrounding areas and step up to put in place additional restrictions. But he says the government is “stubbornly refusing.”

“I fully support the strict measures the Government has put in place for the CBD and North Sydney, but they seem to have forgotten that this virus doesn’t stop at Council borders.” 

Waverley NYE events cancelled

Meanwhile in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, the Waverley council has decided to cancel a popular New Year’s Eve event in Dover Heights due to COVID-19 safety concerns. After consulting with Police, Waverley Council decided to cancel its event at Dudley Page Reserve.

Last year the family event which had a free jumping castle, face painting, playground, DJ, music and dancing drew in hundreds. 

This year the reserve will be fenced off and police and council officers will be patrolling the site throughout the afternoon and evening to stop any large gatherings or anti-social behaviour including alcohol consumption. Caffyn Park in Dover Heights will also be fenced off and closed. 

Mayor of Waverley, Paula Masselos, said the decision to cancel the event was based on a number of factors including the cancellation of 9pm Sydney Harbour fireworks and the reduced fireworks display at midnight. The challenges presented by hosting a public event requiring people to be seated at all times also factored into the event’s cancellation.

“While an upcoming change to the NSW Public Health Order will permit up to 3000 people to be in a ‘controlled outdoor space’, Dudley Page Reserve cannot safely accommodate this number of patrons with adequate physical distancing,” Mayor Masselos said in a statement.

Mayor Masselos said the council consulted with police on whether the event should go ahead and all parties agreed cancelling the event was the “safest option”. She hopes when restrictions are eased, and the COVID-19 risk has been mitigated, the community will be able to come together to celebrate

“2020 has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging years in living memory,” she said.

“And while we all want to let our hair down a little, we need to comply with Public Health Orders and continue to reduce the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 through our behaviours so that we can return to some sort of normalcy in the very near future.”

The cluster of COVID-19 cases associated with the northern beaches outbreak in NSW grew to 27 cases on Friday.

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