Premier Perrottet and NSW Health at Cross-Purposes

NSW Health and Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant, appear to be pushing back against NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet’s removal of Covid mitigation measures. This includes apparent contradictions over the definition of close contacts as well as the need to wear masks.

A close contact was previously defined as anyone who had shared a space with a person who had recently tested positive. This could include anyone who the infected person met up with, or patrons seated nearby at a café.

In his Wednesday press conference, Perrottet explained that a close contact would only be a household contact of an infected person. This means that business owners and many others would have no right to know if a Covid-positive person had been in their vicinity. 

Daily Mail celebrated the measures, saying they would “save Christmas” by limiting self-isolation requirements. The thinking is reminiscent of Trump’s statement that America only has lots of Covid because they do lots of tests.

Dominic Perrottet, his wife and five of their seven children.

But NSW Health later clarified that anyone who spent “four hours or more” in a space with an infected person would count as a close contact. The Chief Health Officer also said that large contagion events in public settings would still be investigated and managed by NSW Health. Yet this task is made far more difficult by a further change, the removal of QR-code check-ins as a requirement for venues.

Meanwhile, for most transmission events, the infected person is now expected to inform close contacts themselves. This is an task Covid-positive patients are sure to welcome…

Perrottet has also removed most rules about wearing a mask; they will only be required on public transport and for customer-facing hospitality staff. When queried that this meant people could spend hours in a crowded Westfield doing Christmas shopping without a mask, Perrottet responded, “We just say take personal responsibility.”

“I would urge everyone to continue to wear a mask,” Chant later said. “It’s a small price to pay… it’s a very tiny act and you’re actually protecting yourself but more importantly you’re protecting others.”

Perrottet was slammed by, among others, talk-back radio host Ray Hadley. “He’s got the training wheels on as Premier, said Hadley. “We need someone to get in there with a bit more experience and say, ‘This is a dumb decision, wake up to yourself.'”

The net effect of Perrottet’s changes is to reduce surveillance of Covid transmission at the same time as it makes transmission more likely. It’s sticking our heads in the sand to “save Christmas,” but at what eventual cost? 

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