An epidemiology expert has claimed having crowds at the SCG for next week’s Test match could pose an “unnecessary risk” as the Greater Sydney’s coronavirus cluster grows.
After it was revealed there were seven new cases of COVID-19 in New South Wales on Saturday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian restricted outdoor gatherings to 2000 people.
With the third Test match between Australia and India scheduled to commence on Thursday, it therefore seemed incredibly unlikely the event could go ahead in Sydney.
However, Ms Berejiklian emphasised the SCG rules remain in place for the time being, and any changes to the 50 per cent capacity limit would be decided following a safety review of the venue.
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But speaking on ABC’s Weekend Breakfast, epidemiology expert Professor Raina MacIntyre explained why hosting up to 24,000 spectators at the New Year’s Test was “quite risky”.
“I think it is an unnecessary risk at this critical time,” Prof MacIntyre said on Sunday morning.
“It may also be a time when the cases are starting to increase because if there were transmissions on New Year’s Eve, we would be expecting to see a rise in cases from the end of this week over the following weekend.
“So the timing is also quite risky.”
Prof MacIntyre is a researcher at the University of New South Wales, and has been studying pandemics and disease for more than 28 years.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, NSW Deputy Premier John conceded the lingering threat of rain could impact the public safety plan at the SCG.
“There are some concerns about the SCG and the upcoming Test that (NSW) Health is working with those organisers,” Mr Barilaro said on Sunday.
“We’ve got to deal with some issues around wet weather, if that was to apply over the few days.”
The Deputy Premier also advised people from Cumberland Shire to reconsider whether they attend the Test match.
“(NSW Health) is working with the SCG and the Cricket Australia and organisers to make sure that when the next Test is played in Sydney it’s done in a safe way,” Mr Barilaro said. “We protect those patrons, we protect the community.
“We have already proven in this state that we can hold large events like the NRL Grand Final and State of Origin, and we haven’t had that issue of a transmission.”
Ms Berejiklian believes the SCG Test would provide a beneficial community morale boost, meaning the venue is currently exempt from the newly-introduced COVID-19 guidelines.
“Our health officials, police and event organisers will be doing a walk-through to go over the … COVID-safe plan,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Saturday.
“This is an example where the NSW government strategy is to keep jobs, to keep community morale and wellbeing while making sure we are COVID-safe.
“There are very stringent guidelines in that plan about making sure people stay within the zones they are required to stay in.
“It will be a very controlled and ticketed event, and the fact that people have to wear a mask when going to or from the event, public transport or otherwise, will also mitigate the risk.
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“We appreciate what people might say about us continuing to hold those events, but also consider the thousands of jobs it keeps, consider the sense of normality it gives us.
“I recall some people were very upset when they heard we were continuing with the fireworks display, but … most of us felt a sense of relief there was something we could look forward to and something we could find a sense of normality through.”
However, the decision to proceed with the event has sparked significant backlash, with many social media users questioning why it was allowed to go ahead while other tough new rules have been introduced to curb the spread of the latest alarming coronavirus outbreak.
Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant confirmed at this stage masks would not be compulsory for spectators at the SCG. However, anyone travelling to the ground via public transport would be required to wear a mask.