More Covid first dose vaccines needed to contain NSW outbreak

New South Wales will beef up its vaccine strategy in the hope that more jabs can help quash Sydney’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The state reported 136 new local cases on Friday, a new daily high for the current outbreak which started in mid-June.

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant advised for the first time on Friday that the outbreak was a “national emergency”.

The virus is spreading particularly quickly among young workers in critical industries who live in Sydney’s west and southwest, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, and more first vaccine doses in those hot spots could slow the transmission.

“We need to get at least the first jab for as many people as we can in those affected communities as possible,” she said.

A plan to roll out more Pfizer vaccines to those critical workers, by extending the interval between Pfizer doses from three to six weeks, was discussed at a meeting of national cabinet on Friday.

An announcement on the strategy is expected on Saturday.

Dr Chant warned on Friday that the scheme could see some people’s vaccine appointments cancelled, but she said hard choices would be necessary to stem the spread.

The government is also urging people to consider getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard said members of the community had a duty to help quash the outbreak, that would be fulfilled by getting the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Your obligation to yourself, the community, NSW and indeed Australia … is to go to get the jabs of AstraZeneca,” he said.

Dr Chant said her own husband and mother-in-law had received the AstraZeneca, describing the risks as “infinitesimally small compared to the benefits”.

A push by the NSW government to have other states’ allocations of Pfizer diverted to Sydney’s hot spots was sunk in the national cabinet meeting on Friday.

Case numbers keep trending higher despite the government ratcheting up restrictions in Greater Sydney, which was sent into lockdown four weeks ago.

Residents in the Cumberland and Blacktown local government areas are now subject to the same elevated stay-at-home orders that southwestern Sydney residents have endured for almost a week.

From 12.01am on Saturday, they have been forbidden from leaving their area unless they are a critical worker.

Residents in the Orange, Blayney and Cabonne local government areas in the state’s central west are also in lockdown until at least July 28.

Saturday’s case numbers will be eagerly anticipated as the premier has indicated that the impact of stricter measures would start to be reflected in case numbers over the weekend.

Late on Friday night NSW Health said fragments of the virus had been detected at the sewage treatment plant at Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands where there were no known cases in this area, which was of “great concern”.

Moss Vale area residents are asked to be vigilant for any symptoms and if they appear to immediately be tested and isolate until a negative result is received.