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PM backs NSW to beat 'scariest' outbreak without shutting down Sydney

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Scott Morrison has thrown his support behind the NSW government’s reluctance to lock down Sydney despite experts calling for tougher measures.

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Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has described the outbreak as the ‘scariest’ period since the pandemic began, is relying on a police blitz to nab people defying tough new restrictions rather than a city-wide lockdown to counter a growing coronavirus cluster.

There are now 36 cases linked to the outbreak that began in Bondi last week after an unvaccinated driver who picked up overseas arrivals got infected.

Morrison said there would be breaches in quarantine but how that was handled was what counted.

“New South Wales, I have no doubt, has the gold standard contact tracing system not just in Australia but in the world,” he told Sky News.

“My fellow Sydneysiders can feel very confident that if anyone can get on top of this without shutting the city down it is the NSW government.”

Jane Halton, who the federal government chose to review quarantine last year, said the man should have been vaccinated and wearing a mask.

“I’m really, really, really disconcerted by this,” she told the Nine Network.

“When I did my review of hotel quarantine last year … I actually said that this was a potential hole and people needed to be very, very aware that these people and their transport arrangements had to be a high priority.”

Just three per cent of adults in Australia have been fully immunised against the deadly disease.

About two thirds of people aged over 70, and about half of over-50s, have received their first dose.

Epidemiologist Bill Bowtell said without immunisation rates being higher, governments only had the blunt instrument of lockdowns to fight the virus.

“The failures in vaccination, the failures in quarantine have unfortunately left Sydneysiders as sitting ducks,” he told the Nine Network on Friday.

He said the quarantine arrangements which allowed the unvaccinated driver who wasn’t wearing a mask to pick up overseas arrivals were a major failure.

“The lockdown is on the way. We should face up to reality,” Professor Bowtell said.

“The longer we avoid going into lockdown the longer we take to come out of it.”

Epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said a short sharp lockdown should have happened last week.

“Epidemiologists who have worked in outbreaks have the adage that we go in early, we go in hard and get out rapidly because we know it really hurts,” she told Nine.

Border closures and other restrictions have been slapped on Sydney by other states ahead of school holidays in NSW.

Morrison said bureaucrats were working on a possible system to allow vaccinated people interstate travel exemptions during outbreaks.

But such a proposal is still a way off with less than five per cent of people fully inoculated against the virus.

The federal government has offered to chip in for a quarantine centre near Brisbane airport in a new proposal for a Queensland hub.

While the state government’s stalled push to use the Wellcamp site near Toowoomba has been rejected, Mr Morrison raised the Damascus Barracks at Pinkenba.

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles said federal action had taken far too long with 25 breaches of hotel quarantine since the start of the pandemic.

“There are holes in the system,” he told Nine.

Marles said the situation in Sydney was another quarantine failure which was keeping Australia in a perpetual state of restrictions.

“We are living in the land of the lockdown.”

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