Despite surging case numbers and a new daily record of 1,029 cases, the New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has made good on her promise of relaxing some of the rules on outdoor gatherings.
Small groups of fully vaccinated people will now be allowed to meet outdoors, but the so-called “picnic rules” are more limited for the 12 local government areas of concern than the rest of the state, and do not come into effect until 13 September.
“In a couple of weeks in the local government areas of concern, families, a household, will now be able to go out for an hour of recreation on top of the hour of exercise,” Berejiklian said on Thursday.
“So, a family will be able to sit in a park, so long as the adults are vaccinated,. They will be able to have an hour of recreation that could be sitting in a park with a picnic with their household, or similar event.”
Proof of vaccination, which is available via a person’s myGov account soon after they receive their second dose, will be required for each adult. Failure by an adult to provide proof will be considered a breach of the public health order and subject to on-the-spot fines. The rules about remaining within 5km of home, curfew hours and a limit of one hour for exercise still apply.
The relaxations came after consultation with health officials and due to concerns about families in western and south-west Sydney, who live in apartments and are unable to leave except for exercise.
The rules for those outside the hotspot LGAs are more lenient and will allow up to five people who are not necessarily from the same family to meet up outdoors. All adults must be fully vaccinated and are still subject to the same LGA and 5km restrictions.
But many people between the ages of 16 and 39 outside the hotspots have been unable to book a Pfizer jab and have been waiting weeks for their vaccine appointments.
The premier acknowledged the supply constraints of Pfizer, which mean 16-to-18-year-olds can’t get vaccinated, but said: “There are supplies of vaccine through GPs. There is vaccine available and we ask anybody to come forward, follow health advice and get your vaccine.”
Berejiklian said the government had consulted with police and health officials before deciding on the rules, and that more lifting of restrictions would be announced when the state reached 70% and 80% double vaccination levels for adults.
The government is in discussions with industry about how restrictions would be eased and businesses reopened if customers and staff are fully vaccinated. NSW is now expected to hit 70% of eligible adults with a double dose by the first or second week of October.
But there was more bad news about the trajectory of the Delta Covid-19 variant in NSW, with the chief health officer, Kerry Chant, acknowledging that “the numbers may well go way above a thousand cases”.
The statewide lockdown has also been extended for another two weeks from Saturday in regional NSW, with the deputy premier, John Barilaro, describing western NSW as “on a knife edge” and “a tinderbox”.
There were 35 new cases in the west of the state, including new cases in Tamworth and Orange. The government is particularly concerned about the south coast, with high readings of fragments in the sewage systems at Merimbula and Narooma, and at Cooma.
Three more people died, all at home: a man in his 30s from western Sydney, a man in his 60s from western Sydney and a man in his 80s. The deaths occurred between 17 August through to 21 August and are being investigated by the coroner.
Both Chant and an emergency specialist, Dr Clare Skinner, said that despite hospitals being stressed, people should seek emergency care.
Chant refused to say whether cases would be on the decline by the time the picnic rules came into force, stressing that the model was being updated every day and depended on compliance and vaccination rates.
Despite rising case numbers, she said she supported the new relaxations.
“One of the factors that we want to recognise is the mental health impacts on the community,” she said. “By then, in September, the weather will be a nice time, and we know that outdoor spaces are less risk. What we’re doing is also incentivising vaccination, because to avail yourself of this, you have to be vaccinated.
“In the local areas of concern, we’ve taken the precaution that it is just open to the household group.
“From the various options we looked at, that was the option that met the mental health needs and wellbeing of our community, but also provided the lowest-risk setting.”
The government is expected to make an announcement about the future of reopening schools and the higher school certificate on Friday.