An explosive email the NSW government fought to keep secret reveals a key recommendation was ignored during Sydney’s lockdown.
Newly released documents reveal the NSW government ignored health advice to apply the same coronavirus lockdown rules across all of Sydney.
An email sent by NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant to Health Minister Brad Hazzard on August 14 showed she recommended “consistent measures across greater metropolitan Sydney”.
But the extra-tough lockdown rules in Sydney’s west and southwest were not brought in line with the rest of the city until September 20.
Former premier Gladys Berejiklian, who was leading the state’s pandemic response at the time, consistently argued she was relying on health advice in decisions around the lockdown.
A western Sydney opposition politician said the email proved locals “were right to feel targeted” and called the revelations “absolutely horrific”.
“The Government hated it when we pointed to a Tale of Two Cities. They accused us of being political – evidence we were speaking the truth,” Lakemba MP Jihad Dib said on Monday.
“When the health advice said one thing, the Government did the other. We were right to feel targeted.”
Sydney’s latest lockdown began in the last weekend of June, after an airport breach caused the Delta variant of the coronavirus to spread in the city.
Although the outbreak began in the eastern suburbs, the spread soon got worse in the city’s west.
By the second week of July, police had begun a crackdown in the western suburbs to make sure locals adhered to the lockdown.
And by the time Dr Chant wrote her August 14 email, the rules had tightened several times in an expanding area of western and southwestern Sydney where the virus was spreading the fastest.
Among the harsher rules was a ban on leaving hotspot LGAs, whereas people in other parts of the city were allowed more freedom of movement.
But the top doctor recommended the rules be made consistent.
“Implement consistent measures across greater metropolitan Sydney with outdoor masks, consistent 5km rule and authorised workers only,” she wrote in a list of recommendations.
The email was written at a time when Covid-19 infections were rising fast.
“Case numbers are high and escalating and likely to reach 1000 cases a day very quickly … this is the worst outbreak in Australia during the pandemic,” Dr Chant wrote.
The first recommendation contained in the email was to “intensify the action in western Sydney and Nepean Blue Mountains where case numbers are escalating”.
The same recommendation was made for rural and regional Aboriginal communities, where Dr Chant also wished to see the vaccine rollout prioritised.
She also recommended further restrictions such as a limit on who could take advantage of child care services, closing retail stores further, and reducing “non-essential activity in manufacturing/construction”.
Other recommendations in the email included “1 hour of exercise per day”, “mandate vaccination in aged care, disability, and health care” and “urgently extend the isolation payments to all LGAs of concern”.
Dr Chant recommended extending locking down regional NSW, advice which the government heeded within hours of receiving her email.
Ms Berejiklian, who led the state through much of the pandemic until she resigned in October, consistently argued she relied on health advice from Dr Chant’s team.
That health advice has mostly been kept secret until Labor MPs recently managed to access parts of it through an order in parliament.
“These revelations show they ignored health advice and left Sydney’s west and south-west under tougher restrictions when it is clear consistency should have been applied across the whole of Greater Sydney,” NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns said.
“Some of the harshest restrictions the country has seen were imposed on western Sydney communities. The government with Dominic Perrottet front and centre split Sydney in two, when there should not have been a divide.”
Mr Hazzard has been contacted for comment.