As Covid-19 began spreading in Sydney a NSW Health official pleaded for a lockdown, saying numbers showed ‘we are clearly behind the virus’.
NSW Health bureaucrats pleaded for Greater Sydney to be locked down in the days before the government took action, documents show.
The request from a NSW Health official in the Hunter Region came on June 24, a day before select suburbs in Sydney were locked down and two days before the rest of the city was shut.
The email shows the official told chief health officer Kerry Chant and other top NSW Health bureaucrats to look at a list of sewage detections on the outskirts of Sydney and Wollongong.
“This is another indication of how widespread the distribution of cases is – I think we are now clearly behind the virus and a Greater Sydney lockdown is certainly required,” the official wrote.
Coronavirus fragments had been found in the northwestern Sydney suburbs of Rouse Hill, Castle Hill and Glenhaven, and Cronulla in the city’s south.
There had also been fragments detected in the Wollongong suburb of Bellambi, the email said.
The email was part of a trove of previously secret NSW Health documents recently released to parliament.
Eight days before the email was sent, an airport driver had tested positive to Covid-19, ending a virus-free streak that had lasted for weeks and would be the state’s last.
Although then premier Gladys Berejiklian imposed a mask mandate on public transport shortly after the first infection was confirmed, her government didn’t lock down Greater Sydney until June 26.
The day before that, parts of the city and the eastern suburbs had been locked down.
Dr Chant previously testified to a parliamentary committee that her team underestimated how fast the virus was spreading in the days before the lockdown.
That was especially true in the city’s western suburbs, where a Bondi resident unknowingly spread the virus to other attendees at a West Hoxton birthday party on June 19.
The extent of that spread wasn’t fully understood until June 23, but even then NSW Health officials believed they had the situation under control, Dr Chant told the parliament in August.
“The initial intelligence was that the West Hoxton party was effectively controlled (and) everyone immediately contacted within the timeframe,” Dr Chant said.
She also said that “with hindsight” it would have been better to lock down sooner.
“With the benefit of hindsight, I think it’s easy to say there was a greater risk of a seeding event in southwestern Sydney than was appreciated at the time it emerged,” she said.
The Sydney lockdown lasted for 15 weeks before vaccination levels were raised to such a degree that the state government decided it would be safe to open up again.
Dr Chant and NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard have been contacted for comment.