An off-limits CBD, indoor gatherings capped at 10 people and strictly no kissing or hugging once the clock strikes 12: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged Sydney residents to exercise “absolute restraint” as they ring in the new year.
However, her mixed messaging on New Year’s Eve restrictions have been deemed as a “danger” to NSW residents, with fears from two local mayors that mass gatherings could lead to a superspreader event.
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As it currently stands NSW residents living in Greater Sydney will be allowed 10 people in each residence, including children, however, Ms Berejiklian’s restrictions on outdoor gatherings have caused concern.
Popular areas have been designated into “green zones” (off-limits to anyone except residents, their guests and NYE pass holders) and “yellow zones” (no permission needed to visit, but police may move on large crowds), with outdoor events capped at 50 – down from 100.
The key point of contention, however, was that the Premier said it was OK for people to go to their local park or oval to watch the fireworks.
“If there’s a local park or a local venue that some people go to look at the fireworks or to have a picnic, that is OK so long as everybody is COVID-safe,” she said.
“That is OK so long as you stick to groups of no more than five or 10 if you’re on the northern beaches, larger ones are allowed in Greater Sydney, but please exercise common sense.”
‘CLEAR AS MUD’
Blasting the New Year’s Eve restrictions for being “clear as mud,” Inner West Council mayor Darcy Byrne said the restrictions were conflicting and confusing. He said that up to “15,000 to 20,000” would normally attend key vantage points in Balmain and Birchgrove and urged residents to “ignore” Ms Berejiklian’s advice.
“My message would be ignore what the Government says – stay away from harbourside parks,” he said.
“Hopefully people will be sensible enough to stay away. The danger is obviously people will still attend those parks, and if there is good weather it is possible there will be big crowds. It would be much better if we had a much clearer directive.”
The Inner West Council has also closed the harbour foreshore parks in Balmain and Birchgrove.
“The NSW Government has provided no plans for management of crowds and no contact tracing capacity,” he wrote on Twitter. “Given the current outbreak, we just can’t run the risk of big crowds causing a superspreading event.”
In the eastern suburbs, Waverley Council mayor Paula Masselos has asked residents to avoid parks and ovals. In order to deter crowds, the council has already fenced off main parks in the area including Caffyn Park and Dudley Page Reserve.
“There will be police and rangers patrolling. We don’t want people going there. We are encouraging people to watch the fireworks from home,” she told The Guardian. “We don’t want to encourage any kind of potential superspreader event that will compromise our community safety.”
Like Mr Byrne, she also implored residents to “stay home”.
“What I would be doing is keeping the messaging simple; if you want to see the fireworks, stay home and watch them from the television. I’d say leave it at that,” she said.
Several social media users have also responded with confusion.
“I’m feeling very nervous that politics are ruling in NSW not health advice and this virus will be out of control – anyone else worried about this?” said one tweet.
“It is mind-boggling to imagine how New Year’s Eve will pan out in Sydney. Today Gladys handed power to the likes of local councils to control the inevitable crowds who will choose to go into public places to celebrate. A debacle in the making. An irresponsible act entirely,” wrote another Twitter user.
SYDNEY NEW YEAR’S RESTRICTIONS
Although confusion around restrictions for Greater Sydney remain, the rules are more strict for residents living in the northern beaches.
Households in the north zone will only be permitted to celebrate with five people indoors, including children, and the residents must be from the same zone. Outdoor gatherings of five people will be allowed however. Both indoor and outdoor gatherings have been capped at 10 people per household for residents in the south zone.
The rest of NSW will be allowed 50 people in indoor gatherings and up to 100 people at outdoor gatherings.