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Deputy Premier makes no apologies for lockdown extension in greater Hunter

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NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro makes no apologies for extending the lockdown in Newcastle and the greater Hunter region, stating “it’s all about protecting communities”.

While parts of the state will be released at midnight on Friday 10 September, the Cessnock, Dungog, Gloucester, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Muswellbrook, Newcastle, Port Stephens, Singleton and Upper Hunter LGAs remain under stay-at-home orders until further notice.

It’s a massive blow to country residents and businesses, particularly in Aberdeen, Denman, Merriwa, Murrurundi, Muswellbrook, Scone, Singleton and neighbouring towns, who’ve barely rated a blip on the daily COVID-19 radar.

Disappointingly, the Hunter New England Local Health District (HNELHD) recorded another 12 infections in the past 24 hours, with four each in Port Stephens and Newcastle LGAs, three in Lake Macquarie LGA and one in Maitland LGA.

Six of them remain under investigation.

And, those figures virtually signalled the end of the Upper Hunter’s chances of early “freedom”.

“Unfortunately, the scenario – for Muswellbrook and Singleton – changed overnight,” Mr Barilaro said.

“In those LGAs, information is already out there about several exposure sites [of concern].

“We believe those exposure sites will continue, as will the number of cases and close contacts.

“But, we’ll know more in the coming days.

“I can assure people the situation will be reviewed every week.

“For those LGAs, which are opening up again, if you get a case or we see high levels of sewage surveillance that we’re concerned about, Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant will lock down a region automatically for 14 days.

“That is a fair, balanced approach in making sure that we protect communities.”

NSW Health confirmed COVID-19 cases at Booral (Mid-Coast Council), the workers from Dungog and Heddon Greta, who attended the Muswellbrook mine site, while a fourth patient at Gundy was in isolation and not considered a risk to the community.

Two exposure sites were also identified at Muswellbrook as a result of the contractors testing positive:

  • The Prince of Wales Hotel bottle shop on Thursday 2 September (6.25pm-6.30pm);
  • and TSG Southside Newsagency on Friday 3 September (11.10pm-11.20pm).

“The confirmation of four infections involving the electorate over the past week including several workers at a Muswellbrook mine site have unfortunately impacted the local case to be released from lockdown,” Upper Hunter state MP Dave Layzell said.

“I share the community’s disappointment after I advocated for Upper Hunter to have the stay-at-home order lifted because of the lack of the virus being present in the electorate.”

Mr Barilaro did warn restrictions could return if even one new local COVID-19 case was recorded.

“You are not coming back to a pre-lockdown environment,” he said.

“There’ll be capacity limits for our hotels, cafes and restaurants, including the four square metre rule, mask-wearing, social distancing,.”

While face-to-face learning in schools will return for those LGAs out of lockdown, certain activities won’t resume at all – including community sport.

Mr Barilaro said people there could return to shopping, working and enjoying time with family and friends albeit with restrictions.

“Schools will return, and they return at a Level 3 COVID plan within schools, which means no extracurricular activities, no assemblies, there’s a range of mask-wearing provisions.”

However, he offered hope to the 38 regional LGAs that remain under lockdown, saying restrictions could ease when there had been no cases in the area for 14 days.

“We look at sewage surveillance, exposure sites,” Mr Barilaro said.

“They’re the thresholds we’ve set with NSW Health that will either put someone back into lockdown or have the opportunity for some to come out.

“It’s a bittersweet day for the regions.

“Some areas will open up to a restricted environment and other areas won’t.”

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