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What's the rush: Opinions divided about pace of NSW's exit from lockdown

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Doctors are concerned NSW’s revised ‘roadmap’ out of COVID-19 restrictions could see the state relaxing too quickly, but a prominent epidemiologist says it has to be done.

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The Australian Medical Association of NSW said changes to the state’s plan to exit lockdown could overwhelm the hospital system and burn out healthcare workers.

“We’ve got a new premier in the driver’s seat, but that’s not a good enough reason to deviate from the course previously set,” AMA NSW President Danielle McMullen said.

“Keeping people safe must be the premier’s top priority.

“Relaxing restrictions too soon will not be a ‘popular’ decision if it means the number of people contracting the virus and ending up in hospital skyrockets.”

The state reported 646 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths on Friday.

Katherine Gibney from the Doherty Institute says while COVID case numbers will go up as restrictions loosen, easing out of lockdown is inevitable.

“Hopefully with high vaccination rates we’ll be protected against the more severe disease and those requiring hospitalisation and ICU but we are expecting these to increase in the coming weeks and couple of months,” Dr Gibney told ABC TV on Friday.

“It has to be done. We can’t live in lockdown indefinitely.”

The NSW Doctors Reform Society questioned whether newly minted Premier Dominic Perrottet was listening to Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant’s advice.

“Mr Perrottet’s proposals to increase the numbers of people in peoples homes and stop the use of masks in offices could risk much higher numbers of COVID infections and even increased deaths,” DRS president Con Costa said.

Perrottet on Thursday announced a revised strategy to reopen NSW, with the state to emerge from months of lockdown on Monday having reached its 70 per cent double-dose vaccination milestone.

Ten adult visitors will be allowed in homes, 30 people can gather outdoors and 100 guests can attend weddings and funerals.

Indoor swimming pools will be able to open and all school students will be back in the classroom by October 25. All teachers will have to be fully vaccinated by the same date.

The United Workers Union, which represents many frontline and public-facing workers, is concerned members checking vaccination status could be put in unsafe situations.

UWU National Secretary Tim Kennedy says hospitality workers fear it will be hard to speak up about safety issues and abuse from patrons.

He is concerned it will be left to junior and untrained staff to check customers’ status, and fears many employers will not follow government-mandated COVID safety rules.

The union wants the government to issue clear guidelines to protect public facing workers, and penalties for non-compliance, as well as to implement a simple way to verify vaccination status.

The integrated Service NSW vaccine certificate or passport app is still not ready to be rolled out state-wide. It is currently being trialled with 500 people in regional NSW.

“We want the NSW government and employers to ensure that we aren’t leaving the casually employed person, potentially in their teens or early twenties, bearing the brunt of any pushback that might arise from vaccination requirements for people wanting to enter venues again,” Kennedy said on Friday.

Restrictions will ease further when 80 per cent of the adult population is fully jabbed, expected around October 25.

That is when 3000 people will be allowed at ticketed outdoor events and nightclubs can reopen, but without dancing.

Masks will not be required in office buildings in an attempt to encourage workers back to Sydney’s CBD.

These freedoms will apply for the fully vaccinated until December 1, when freedoms are set to be restored for the unvaccinated.

While AMA NSW urged the premier to “pump the brakes” on the easing of restrictions, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and lobby group Business NSW welcomed the roadmap changes.

“With NSW passing the 70 per cent double vaccination rate threshold … Australians are beginning to get their lives back,” Morrison said.

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