NSW has recorded 1,331 new Covid-19 cases and six deaths overnight as residents enjoyed the first weekend of picnics after restrictions on outdoor gatherings were eased.
Sydneysiders made the most of their relaxed caps at outdoor gatherings to exercise and catch up with friends on Saturdays.
On Monday, outdoor gatherings were relaxed, allowing up to five vaccinated people to congregate if they lived outside the local government’s 12 areas of concern.
Residents living in the LGAs are only allowed to leave with their family members – and only for two hours at a time.
Police have also increased their presence in Sydney ahead of the planned anti-lockdown demonstrations on Saturday.
Officers arrived on buses at Sydney Park, in St. Peters, and were on bikes and on foot to prevent protesters from crowding as a police operation blocked several roads in the area.
Bystanders say they saw several buses, reserved for the police, parked nearby. Officers also saw bicycles and foot patrols.
The police presence was described as a ‘ring of steel’, the phrase used during the pandemic to describe operations that prevent unwanted movement of the public along major roads.
Police also targeted another potential protest site nearby, in Victoria Park, where they managed to break up an anti-lockdown protest before it gained momentum last month.
NSW is also preparing to test a pilot home quarantine program that, if successful, could accelerate the return of international arrivals
The new cases come as police prepared and arrived in Sydney Park, inland ahead of scheduled anti-lockdown rallies
NSW police promised an equally ‘highly visible’ operation to prevent protesters from gathering in large numbers for another march.
Mal Lanyon, deputy commissioner of Metropolitan Field Operations, also said police are ready to respond to any last-minute location changes.
“We continue to monitor online commentary and have established an extremely mobile police operation with significant resources to respond to any situation we face,” he said.
Meanwhile, the leaderless anti-lockdown protests in NSW are diverting a huge amount of police resources that could otherwise be used to assist with the COVID-19 crisis.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller says anti-lockdown protests are wasting valuable resources that could otherwise be diverted to help with the state’s escalating COVID crisis.
On Tuesday, police broke up nearly 100 small anti-lockdown protests across NSW, arresting more than 150 people and imposing 570 fines.
Last month, 1,500 police were found in force in Sydney to quell protests that followed a larger violent protest in the CBD in July.
NSW is also gearing up to test a pilot home quarantine program that, if successful, could accelerate the return of international arrivals.
The test run, announced by the state government on Friday, will include 175 vaccinated people who will be quarantined at home for seven days, monitored by geolocation and facial recognition technology.
The police presence was described as a ‘ring of steel’, the phrase used during the pandemic to describe operations that prevent unwanted movement of the public along major roads
NSW police promised an equally ‘highly visible’ operation to prevent protesters from gathering in large numbers for another march
If successful, the NSW government is expected to quickly scale up the program to accommodate many more international arrivals.
Quarantine arrangements for hotels will continue under the plan for unvaccinated people.
More than 40,000 Australians have been stranded abroad due to border closures, and Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Friday she hoped many of them could be home for Christmas.
The Business Council of Australia has welcomed the plan, saying the country must remove bottlenecks, such as hotel quarantine, that prevent Australians from returning home and prevent skilled workers from entering the country.
“We urge all state and territory leaders to follow NSW’s lead, put the nation first and make plans to rejoin the rest of the world,” said BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott in a statement.
NSW reached another milestone on Friday as half of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated.
But several regional areas will go back into lockdown this weekend.
The Glen Innes Severn community area, inland from Coffs Harbour, will be closed for a week from Saturday after a COVID-19 case was discovered there.
Syndeysiders practice in Centennial Park as the city continues with a hard lockdown
As a result, Queensland has reinstated border restrictions with the region.
The Hilltops local government area in the south of the state, which includes the city of Young, is also subject to seven-day restrictions.
Albury and Lismore were sent back to a week-long lockdown on Thursday.
There are 1,245 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in NSW, with 228 patients in intensive care and 112 on ventilators.
More to come