The NSW premier says she hopes the imminent easing of coronavirus-prompted restrictions on gatherings and rules around mask usage will help the state’s businesses plan for a smoother 2021.
The state recorded zero locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday, its 10th consecutive day without a local case.
Two virus cases were uncovered in travellers in hotel quarantine.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Wednesday afternoon announced that gathering and function restrictions in Sydney would ease from Friday.
Sydneysiders could invite up to 30 people inside their homes, while picnics and other outdoor gatherings – including in yards – can number 50 people.
Attendee caps at weddings and funerals have been lifted to 300 people, while caps have been removed altogether on corporate events, religious gatherings and hospitality venues. However the “four square metre” rule still applies.
Ms Berejiklian told reporters restrictions limiting venues to one person per four square metres may be revised to two square metres in a fortnight.
“We don’t know when the pandemic is going to end but what we do know is that we have to live with it, and NSW has always taken a very balanced approach of making sure we keep the virus under control but we also make sure that we keep our economy as open as possible,” she said.
“Businesses can know that in a couple of weeks’ time they will (enjoy) increased trade and be able to plan for the year ahead.
“We know that there’s no such thing as a perfect system, and the risk of an outbreak is there … we need to make sure that if (an outbreak) does occur, that we don’t create a super-spreading event.”
Rules on mask usage around Greater Sydney would also change, with usage recommended but no longer mandatory in retail settings.
Residents will continue to be obliged to wear a mask on public transport, at religious gatherings, in gaming rooms, at hairdressers and beauticians and while working in a public-facing role in hospitality venues.
Ms Berejiklian said mandatory mask usage on public transport would be important to coax Sydney CBD workers back to office work.
Current rules dictate that masks are compulsory in indoor venues in Greater Sydney, the Central Coast and Wollongong, while five visitors are allowed in homes and a maximum of 30 people can gather outside.
“The other thing we need to note, which is a big difference from pre-Avalon (cluster), is that these new virulent (UK and South African) strains of the virus – we are still working out what they are doing,” Ms Berejiklian said.
Opposition Leader Jodi McKay said she supported the government’s changes but argued stringent mask rules should have remained in place.
“We think it’s really important masks are being worn in indoor venues, particularly in Sydney – people are used to that now, there was no major pushback,” Ms McKay told reporters.
The Sydney Business Chamber welcomed the easing of restrictions, saying they would boost economic activity and attendance in CBD offices.
“Organisations have developed workplace models ensuring social distancing and every successful business depends on the collaboration and teamwork that flourishes in the office environment,” executive director Katherine O’Regan said in a statement.
NSW Health, meanwhile, is urging people in southwest Sydney to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms after virus fragments were detected in sewage at the Liverpool waste treatment plant.
They also called for higher COVID-19 testing rates, with fewer than 10,000 tests recorded in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday.
“The continuing low testing numbers is a concern as the virus may still be circulating in the community,” Dr Jeremy McAnulty said in a statement.